With these words, Sheikh Jamaluddin, Chief Executive Officer of Brunei Tourism Board, underlines not only his country’s commitment to the Heart of Borneo – but a very personal conviction that tourism and sustainable development go hand in hand.
From finance to tourismFirst as the Director of Brunei Tourism, then as Chief Executive Officer of Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA), and now as Chief Executive Officer of the Brunei Tourism Board, Sheikh has come to appreciate the potential of tourism for bringing people from all walks of life to value different religions, cultures and lifestyles. And then there has also been another realization: the critical element of environmental sustainability.
Why the rainforests are still thereMore than 78% of Brunei Darussalam is still swathed by forests. How did the country achieve this level of protection? Sheikh explains. Considerable oil and gas resources and peace and security have brought generous windfalls. As a result, people have not resorted to cutting rainforests to make ends meet. Then, there is a national policy that sets the tone with a sustainable approach to rainforest management.
The sound of the Heart of BorneoThis approach is very much in line with how Sheikh views the Heart of Borneo region. “The Heart of Borneo has a refreshing sound to me,” explain Sheikh. “It signifies freshness and collectiveness in the programme’s effort to ensure our people can live in synchrony with nature.”
Elaborating on his feelings for this area, Sheikh explains that “each and every single area of the Heart of Borneo is very important and they are all linked to each other through the flow of rivers and wildlife. Therefore I would like to see that Borneo is kept green and that the work of Heart of Borneo be fully supported.
So far, this seems very much to be the case. “The most decisive element is having top government officials involved and supportive of this programme,” says Sheikh. “The fact that our leaders are fully briefed on Heart of Borneo goals and objectives is great news. The Heart of Borneo programme has also done a tremendous job in creating greater awareness on the importance of maintaining our fragile ecosystems.
‘A real gem for ecotourism’The famous naturalist and conservationist Professor David Belamy once said that as far as promoting Brunei as an ecotourism destination, Sheikh is ‘sitting on a gold mine’.
He couldn’t be more right. Brunei’s rainforest is still untouched by modern development and this is reflected into Brunei’s tourism strategy. In fact, well before there was a Heart of Borneo programme, Brunei already had its tourism tagline as ‘The Green Heart of Borneo’.
The natural connectionSheikh is banking on Brunei Darussalam’s participation with the Heart of Borneo programme to ensure that one of the last remaining rainforests in the world is maintained in a sustainable manner.
“The objective is simple,” he reminds. “What the Heart of Borneo programme is doing is ensure that our policy-makers do not lose sight of sustainability during their decision-making process. It is all about creating awareness and gently reminding ourselves that the importance of preserving our environment in a win-win situation.”
So who exactly stands to gain from these efforts? Sheikh points out that “…by being fully involved in the Heart of Borneo programme, we can showcase the world our pristine rainforest. A destination that still has a truly untouched land area that was designed and built by nature millions of years ago.”
A never-ending struggleBut Sheikh concedes that the battle to protect the Heart of Borneo has yet to be won. “Heart of Borneo work is never ending due to constant changes in the domestic political landscape and pressures from international demand for raw materials.”
There are ways to deal with this. He recommends rewarding government agencies that adopt sustainable approaches, where both community and environment can benefit.
Sheikh also advocates the need for an effective enforcement agency that is credible in ensuring that no further degradation of large-scale sensitive areas is practiced.