The tourism industry in Sarawak is in the spotlight as sporting events and cultural festivals are being showcased as part of the wider Visit Malaysia (VMY) 2014 tourism campaign. However momentum must be continued beyond this year’s festivities in order to attract further tourism revenue and investment.
A series of activities and attractions, which it is hoped will bolster the state’s income, have been organised this year in Sarawak as part of the VMY 2014 campaign, a year of promotional activities to bolster one of the most lucrative industries in Malaysia. By 2020 the industry is expected to record total receipts of RM168bn ($51.5bn) with 36m tourist arrivals targeted under the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP), according to Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.
Tourism is a key pillar of the economy in Sarawak. The Malaysian state had 2.66m visitors in the first seven months of 2014, a 10.1% rise from the same period last year, according to the Sarawak Tourism board, putting the state well on track to beat last year's total of 4.3m. Sarawak's tourism revenues are also on an upward trend. Tourism receipts last year stood at RM9.2bn ($2.82bn) compared to RM8.57bn ($2.6bn) in 2012.
“For 2014, Sarawak anticipates visitor arrivals to reach the 4.6m mark and to complement the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign by the federal government,” Tourism minister, Abang Johari Tun Openg, said. The sector is estimated to have contributed 15% of the state’s real GDP in 2013.
Alongside an international regatta event in September, 13 major events have been organised this year to capitalise on the year-long promotion of tourism in the region, including Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo International Yachting Challenge and the Borneo International Kite Festival.
Venue for conferences, exhibitions
While tourism figures are looking healthy, there is room to accelerate the growth. Progress in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry would have strong spin-off benefits for the sector. Last year, Sarawak won a bid to host the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), a high profile international conference to be held in Kuching in 2016. It also won 57 bids last year, compared to 45 in 2012, for both national and international events, bringing in a total of 248 conference days and an estimated RM42.3m ($13m) in direct delegates’ expenditure, according to the tourism minister.
Another area of further growth is the development of eco-tourism, as well as activities such as bird watching and diving, helped by the island's abundance of natural flora and fauna assets. The involvement of ethnic communities has been a key part of the region’s tourism strategy, with the Ministry of Tourism encouraging rural community participation through homestay programmes - a form of tourism that allows a visitor to rent a room from a family in a homelike setting - and community-based ecotourism activities. A total of 16,949 tourists visited homestays in the state last year compared to 14,310 in 2012.
But whether the visitors are arriving for leisure or business, officials say improved transport links will be crucial for the sector’s evolution in the long-term.
"The key challenge is to improve air-connectivity so that visitors are able to experience the well-kept secrets of Borneo,” Dato’ Rashid Khan, CEO of Sarawak Tourism Board told The HUB Daily in March. The tourism board is working with major airports to increase air connectivity as well as collaborating with airlines to create more city pairs to enable travellers to fly directly to Sarawak and negotiate more frequencies on the existing routes, added Dato’ Rashid Khan.