Starting a new kind of business in Brunei can be quite a challenge, but after three successful seasons of diving into Sultanate’s fledgling marine-tourism market, professional scuba shop Poni Divers seems to have found its footing and is now turning its sights international.
General Manager of Poni Divers Wong Thye Sing spoke to The Brunei Times on the challenges the shop had starting up and where it is headed. Wong registered the company in 2009, and after spending some time finding the right location and paperwork, opened up a Kiulap office in July 2010 before launching the dive shop at the Serasa Water Sports Complex in 2011.
“There had definitely been a lot of challenges,” shared Wong. One was staffing. Because the industry was new, he said, finding the right people took quite a bit of time. “It is only this year that I am able to focus more on managing the business,” he said. “Before, I would do a lot of things myself which didn’t leave me a lot of time – driving the boat, teaching, diving,” he said, “Now a lot of my staff are now trained and are stepping up, filling roles in the company, and now I am focused more on the direction of the business,” he said.
Other challenges he had faced included getting the right equipment, stating he finds himself going overseas a lot to find the right suppliers.
“Finding specific equipment for diving and for boats… there’s just not that many in Brunei,” he said.
Then he had to woo the local market. He said the first couple of years, they worked with the local market, and to try and encourage the public “to get out and about in the water”. “I think we have overcome that challenge,” he said. “There are a lot more local divers, people have gotten used to the idea that there is diving in Brunei.”
After tackling challenges in staffing, supply chain and gaining local support, Wong now aims to help grow Brunei’s reputation as a diving destination abroad, though he said it will not be a short journey. “We have more tourists coming in this season,” he said, “But trying to build Brunei as a diving destination is a challenge that will take a number of years to overcome. As a generalisation, it may take three to four years to get people to start coming to Brunei, and maybe 10 years of marketing, dive shows, magazines as well as good service through word of mouth to really establish Brunei as an international diving destination,” he said.
However, Wong said the company is making good strides in that direction. “We are getting good support from Brunei Tourism and other agencies, and we are spending quite a bit of our own resources to go for dive shows and promoting the diving community to dive in Brunei.” There had been other dive centres in the past that are no longer around, but Wong said the market is now more ready, not just for diving but other new activities as well. He said that there are now many young professionals – students returning from overseas – who are now looking to find new recreational activities they might have been exposed to while overseas, and “diving is just one of them”.
He also noted that increased environmental awareness through local media and government agencies have given diving big exposure, which draw in the curious. “They listen and hear about these things, and then they come here to ask questions,” he said.
Asked about the environmental sustainability of Brunei’s diving environment when faced with the growing number of divers to Brunei waters, Wong said that if steps are not taken now, it would be a challenge in the future. “However, I think the right steps are being taken,” he said, noting that public awareness on environmental issues such as beach pollution and the health of the coral reefs is growing.
He also said it would be a very long time before Brunei’s diving industry would grow to the point where it would have a substantial impact on the environment. “Take for example, Thailand where you would see hundreds of divers in the water at the same time. In Brunei, we might be the only ones out in the water with a small group of 20 people,” he said.
As the diving industry grows, Wong said that their company’s immediate future is to start focusing on expanding facilities and equipment to be able to be on par with other countries. In the longer term, they hope to be more involved with youth, the environment as well as diving even deeper into Brunei waters.
Koo Jin Shen
The Brunei Times
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