KUCHING: Foreign arrivals to Sarawak fell short of expectations last year, recording a 7% drop from 2014, no thanks to poor air connectivity.
State Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg had hoped for 5 million arrivals in 2015. However, only 4.51 million visitations were recorded. In 2014, there were 4.85 million foreign arrivals.
“Our target for this year remains 5 million,” Johari told reporters after the yearly State Tourism Steering Committee meeting here yesterday.
The prolonged haze, repercussions from the twin Malaysia Airlines disasters, and global economic slowdown were also blamed for the drop.
A much touted attempt by the Sarawak and Sabah governments to become majority shareholders in MASwings also failed to materialise.
Johari said poor air links had continued to “handicap” Sarawak’s tourism growth. Looking ahead, the state would concentrate on attracting tourists via China and Singapore hubs.
On April 26, Hong Kong Airlines would fly its first flight between Kuching and Hong Kong.
“As a result of that route, there is a possibility of other airlines coming. In fact, Sarawak Tourism Board is negotiating with other Chinese airlines to fly direct from China to Kuching. I can’t reveal more yet. The other important hub will be Singapore,” Johari said.
Promotional works in Hong Kong and Singapore would be “aggressive”, he added.
A month-long Singapore campaign called “Let’s play-play in Sarawak... Where adventure lives” is to begin soon with “bus wrap” advertisements, a food documentary with Media Corp and social media product updates.
“The feedback we get is, even Singaporeans, they are not very familiar with Sarawak. We want to tap this market. Singaporeans are important to us. Their expatriates are important. And Singapore is a hub. We want to work closely with Singapore Airlines and Silk Air as our partners.”
Johari said the aim was for a 5% increase of Singaporean visitors after the campaign. In 2014, Sarawak received 49,059 Singaporeans.
Nationally, the country received 25.7 million foreign arrivals with an estimated tourism receipt of RM69.1bil last year. Of that, Sarawak’s share of 4.51 million generated roughly RM9.8vil, which is equivalent to 9.3% of the state GDP.
A study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Business Faculty found the average tourist to Sarawak spent RM2,000, with a stay period of between four to seven days.
Johari said exit surveys also indicated good repeat tourists rates, and that most who made it to this part of the world were from middle-class financial backgrounds.