“A Good Omen”
ON WEDNESDAY this week, Miri saw a plane called Scoot land at her airport to mark the start of an air link between Sarawak and Singapore, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This inaugural flight is a good omen: slowly, but surely, foreign tourists are arriving in Sarawak via Singapore, to begin with.
Hopefully this is a precursor to many more flights to come.
It has always been the conventional wisdom among members of the hospitality fraternity that if Sarawak-based travel agencies could tap into a fraction of the tourism market in Singapore, there would be a significant slice of the pie for the tourism industry. from Sarawak.
Tourists from Europe and America bound for Bali bypassed us because there was no one to lure them to our shores at Singapore’s most advantageous crossroads.
Our attractions are what the global tourism trade calls “niches”, where prices are generally higher than in Bali or southern Thailand, but we can still try to turn away at least some of the impatient travelers to Sarawak.
The government, hotel chains, travel agencies all need to be proactive – working with Singapore-based agencies to entice visitors to Borneo.
I would suggest that as a first step, the state government assists any Sarawak based travel agency with funds for setting up basic promotional facilities in Singapore. In fact, not so long ago, Sarawak had such a tourist office there. Having no news on this lately, I don’t know if the Sarawak shop recently set up in town is doing the job of attracting tourists to Sarawak as well as selling our vegetables and fruits. I’m curious.
Singapore / Kuching / East Kalimantan
Once Indonesia’s new capital, Nusantara, is fully operational in East Kalimantan, I suspect there will be work and business travelers flocking to the new city. From Singapore, they will travel through Kalimantan, unless Singapore tour operators working with their counterparts in London, Amsterdam, Zurich, San Francisco or Beijing have planned stopovers in Kuching.
Now here is a good opportunity for local tour operators to work with hoteliers to, through their global network, persuade those heading to Nusantara to spend a night or two in Kuching.
The financial benefits are obvious to all concerned.
In the meantime, what about attracting foreign and local visitors to Sibu and the places of interest upstream? Not just upstream, although our new road network would make that possible, but by boat.
I think aloud of a luxurious cruise ship like the RV Orient Pandaw in its time.
A dozen years ago, tour operators would take foreign tourists on river cruises on this scenic vessel, mostly trips from Sibu to Kapit and on to Kuala Rajang.
During 10 days full of adventures in the steaming jungle of Borneo, always relieved by the rather luxurious accommodations and services on board, our visitors generally enjoyed this unique trip.
The Pandaw was part of a shipping company originally founded in Burma. When this previously “closed” country was reopened to the world, the tourist trade on the Irrawady exploded.
The Pandaw had to return to Myanmar to serve a more lucrative route than going up and down the Rajang. For people living along the banks of the Rajang, it was a sad day when the ship set sail towards sunset in March 2012.
Locally built cruise ships
I’m sure trips on the Rajang would continue to be popular with foreign tourists.
Older people like to visit exotic places in comfort and safety, without too many uphill treks and spending the night in mosquito-infested tents in the jungle. And don’t forget that a segment of the “grey market” has money to spend! If the promotion is attractive and the service is good, they will come.
Calling local contractors with a bit of cash to spare: are you ready to invest in a pleasure boat like the Pandaw? The ship can be built in Sibu, where riverboats of every conceivable kind have been built for decades.
These shipbuilders should be able to build bigger boats with comfortable accommodations, not squashed seats with bags and packs on everyone’s lap! Pretty little speedboats, suitable for a cruise on the mighty Rajang. Good for tourism, good for the shipbuilding industry.
Tour operators taking their clients would be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the history of the places bordering it. A commentary along the way will be appreciated by visitors – geography, ecology, history, the lot!
Foreign tourists wishing to make this trip rely on brochures in several languages (German and French) for information about the place they are visiting.
I am glad to see that the state government is doing its best to pick up foreign tourists. There are a number of plans, some no doubt still in the works, to attract tourists to Sarawak, Covid or not Covid.
Up the Sarawak River
I don’t know if there is a local tourism industry plan to take out of state visitors by boat to Siniawan. It would be instructive to listen to the tour guides tell the story of the Sarawak River and Siniawan and other sites visited and written about by travelers during the Brooke Diet.
Near Siniawan there is the famous mountain called Serambu where the first Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke, had built a bungalow. On indigenous customary lands – by the way!
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