Brunei—a missed opportunity?

By: Piers Lee LinkedIn, Managing Director of BVA BDRC Asia

Brunei Darussalam represents a market that is often overlooked, characterized by limited research engagement due to its size, with a population of only 445,000 individuals distributed among approximately 87,000 households.

Consequently, inquiry into this market remains sporadic, with some stakeholders opting to extrapolate insights from neighboring Malaysia as a proxy for understanding Brunei’s consumer landscape. However, such an approach overlooks the distinct market dynamics and opportunities unique to Brunei, which are shaped by its autonomous governance and developmental agendas.

Despite its modest size, Brunei enjoys relative affluence attributed largely to its robust exportation of oil and gas resources. Whatever your thoughts about fossil fuels, revenues from oil and gas have facilitated the provision of comprehensive social welfare, encompassing free education, healthcare, subsidized food and housing, as well as near full employment—a testament to the government’s commitment to societal well-being, and the extent to which it will share the benefits of future growth of this market with its populace.

With a GDP per capita exceeding USD 30,000, Brunei ranks comparably to the European average and outpaces all its Southeast Asian counterparts, except Singapore.

However, cognizant of the vulnerabilities associated with oil-dependent economies, Brunei has embarked upon a diversification trajectory, epitomized by its strategic blueprint, “Brunei Darussalam’s Vision 2035.”

Central to this vision is the Digital Economic Master Plan, aimed at catapulting Brunei into a technologically advanced hub within Southeast Asia; also to exploit its strategic location on the North coast of the island of Borneo. Complementary endeavors span various sectors including business, finance, education, and logistics, all underpinned by concerted efforts to bolster infrastructure and attract foreign investment.

To realize these aspirations, several imperatives emerge:

  1. Augmenting the domestic workforce by fostering an environment conducive to the influx of skilled expatriates.
  2. Enhancing both physical and digital infrastructure to fortify Brunei’s economic competitiveness.
  3. Establishing special economic zones to entice multinational enterprises, thereby catalyzing industrial diversification.
  4. Cultivating a more cosmopolitan and inclusive society, drawing inspiration from exemplars like Dubai, a city where expatriates are welcomed while local cultural integrity is preserved.

Amidst this evolving landscape, Brunei presents an array of opportunities across sectors in both B2B and B2C sectors. Despite historically tepid demand for market research within Brunei, initiatives such as those spearheaded by BVA BDRC (Asia) in collaboration with a local partner are developing both offline and online data collection services throughout the country.

We are currently undertaking a comprehensive overview of the informal eating outlet market in Brunei.  Like Singapore, eating out is common in Brunei with about half the population dining at quick service restaurants, food courts, or similar at least once a week.

BVA BDRC is extending its market sizing & segmentation research to Brunei, to be followed by market opportunity analysis and concept testing. Broader opportunities exist for brands in Brunei, specific to some of our specialist areas, including financial services, education, media, and consumer goods.

Indeed, the narrative of Brunei extends beyond its current economic milieu, beckoning forth a vision of transformation akin to that of Dubai—a narrative characterized by an evolution away from reliance on natural resources towards a diversified and vibrant economy, poised to emerge as a beacon of prosperity and innovation within the Asian landscape.

This article was first published in the Q1 2024 edition of Asia Research Media

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