Tourist arrivals in Sarawak could increase by as much as 20% this year compared to 2010 when total arrivals stood at about 3.2mil.
To date, the increase had been at 16%, Tourism and Heritage Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg told reporters on Sunday, adding that in the first quarter, there were 1.16mil visitors to the state.
“We’ve seen tourists from outside Malaysia increased by 22%. Most of them are from Australia, Europe and Japan. South Korea is also a growing market for Sarawak,” Johari said after a ‘buka puasa’ event for his ministry’s staff.
Johari attributed the increase to better air connectivity. “We are also talking to more airlines, trying to help them identify Kuching as another regional hub.”
Next month, the minister will lead a delegation, comprising MASWing personnel, to Maldives, to explore the island nation’s water-tourism. Since mid-year, Johari has been talking about introducing amphibious aircraft to fly between Kuching and Miri to Bakun and Murum dams. Maldives, which is just off the coast of India, has 1,192 islands, of which about 200 are inhabited. Johari said the country’s complicated logistics would serve as a guide as to how Sarawak could develop tourism in central and northern Sarawak. He cited areas “not far from Miri” as having been tagged for more water-based recreational developments.
“Overall, Sarawak has a lot of attractions,” Johari said, adding: “We must know how to manage our attractions, and how to get more (funds) to build better infrastructure within the attractions. We have an advantage here because of global green movement. We have a lot of nature to “pull” tourists with.”
Although Sarawak’s visitor arrivals recorded a slight drop last year, tourism receipts still achieved a respectable RM1.69bil, according to a Tourism Malaysia estimate. The slide was attributed to the prolonged after-effects of global financial crisis, which was also complicated by the European volcanic ash episode.
Of the estimated 3.2 million arrivals to Sarawak last year, about 750,000 were from Peninsular Malaysia while 625,000 were Sabahans. The number of inter-state travellers made up 42%. Non-Malaysian arrivals was 1.9 million, out of which 1.19 million were Bruneians, followed by Indonesians (about 384,000) and Filipinos (about 71,000).
Part of the increase this year has been the result of Malaysia Airlines’ new Kuching-Seoul direct flight via Kota Kinabalu, as well as its Kuching-Tokyo and Kuching-Osaka, also via Kota Kinabalu. New Kuching-Indonesian routes were also introduced by Kal Star Aviations earlier this year, while the trio of budget airlines — AirAsia, Firefly and Tiger Air — have been adding flight frequencies between Kuching, Sibu and Miri to Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Singapore.