Interview: Charlene Chan
What factors are driving major international players in the hospitality segment to invest in Sarawak?
CHARLENE CHAN: Sarawak’s tourism sector has experienced moderate growth over the past few years, with increases in tourist arrivals, occupancy rates and average room rates. In 2015 foreign and domestic tourist arrivals into Sarawak are expected to exceed the 4.3m visitors recorded in 2014, which bodes well for the future of Kuching’s hotel industry. Indeed, state government projects such as the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy have identified the tourism industry as one of the priority sectors to develop within the state. In addition to the increased number of tourist arrivals, top educational institutions in Sarawak now offer courses in hospitality and tourism, including UCSI University, SATT College and SEGi College.
As a result, the state can train skilled workers to match the service quality of international players. For example, UCSI University is leading the Entry Point Project 10, a government initiative to produce 50,000 educated and highly skilled workers annually for Malaysia’s hospitality sector under the educational component of the government’s national key economic areas. Such steps are expected to boost interest from major players by attracting them to Sarawak.
What roles can hotels and serviced residences play to encourage tourism in Sarawak in line with the government’s promotion campaigns?
CHAN: Other than their main role in providing accommodation for tourists in Malaysia, hotels and serviced residences are working actively with transportation companies and agencies to facilitate access for tourists to locations and events throughout the country. In Sarawak, for example, shuttle buses have been organised to attractions such as the Sarawak Cultural Village and to events such as the Rainforest World Music Festival, to reduce the burden on the transportation sector. Property managers in Sarawak have also organised programmes such as cultural tours for visitors, as well as promoting important cultural events, particularly during festivals such as Chinese New Year, Hari Gawai, Hari Raya and Christmas.
Players in Sarawak’s hospitality segment therefore comprise an integral part of the value chain, complemented by government bodies, transportation providers and the like, in facilitating the success of tourism campaigns such as Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
How important is the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry in driving the growth of the state’s tourism sector?
CHAN: Since the establishment of the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) and the opening of the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK), the MICE industry has blossomed in Sarawak to the point where the state has earned a reputation as a significant global player in the industry. For example, the SCB achieved a top 30 ranking in the International Congress and Convention Association’s country and city rankings for the Asia Pacific and Middle East in 2013, a significant recognition of the sector’s growth in Sarawak in recent years. Particularly since 2010, Kuching has continued to improve in its city ranking for the MICE sector, achieving 38th place in 2012 and reaching its current position of 28th place the following year. As a result, it ranks alongside international cities as diverse as Birmingham, Johannesburg, Las Vegas and Orlando.
In 2014, SCB won 60 bids for conferences to be held between 2015 and 2017, worth an estimated RM31m ($9.43m) in direct delegate expenditure. Since its inauguration in 2010, the BCCK has put Sarawak on the business events map, winning bids for major events of international standing. For example, it hosted 16 international conferences in 2014. The hospitality segment has been crucial in providing the infrastructure for these events. Moreover, it also directly supports the work of the MICE industry by optimising the quality of experience for delegates, thereby elevating both the city and the state’s standing within the industry.
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