KUCHING: There is a marked increase in tourists from mainland China after the launch of AirAsia’s Kuching-Shenzhen direct flight in December.
The average monthly increase of Chinese tourists to Sarawak this year is 17% over 2017, according to state Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry permanent secretary Hii Chang Kee.
He said the biggest arrival of Chinese tourists was during the Chinese New Year period in February.
The ministry’s statistics showed that in the first five months of this year, there were 19,641 Chinese tourists visiting the Land of the Hornbills.
During the same period, the state recorded 1.75 million tourist arrivals.
“The Kuching-Shenzhen flight has now been increased to four from three times per week. The passenger load is between 70% and 80%,” added Hii in a paper presentation at the inaugural Sarawak-China business forum here.
Noting that there was great potential yet to be tapped in the Chinese tourist market, Hii suggested the state and tourism operators focus on southern China, which operates 262 direct flights per week into Malaysia.
Last year, 2.12 million tourists from southern China visited Malaysia.
“We are looking at how to increase direct flights (into Sarawak) from China. Last week, we talked to one airline from China.
“There are a lot of direct flights from China into Kota Kinabalu and Brunei. We have to find how to tap this market too” he added.
Hii said to attract more direct chartered flights into Sarawak, the Sarawak Tourism Board offered incentives that included RM10,000 per flight for promotion and marketing activities.
Chinese tourists, he said, are big spenders.
Last year, Sarawak recorded 4.86 million tourist arrivals, which represented a 4.2% increase over 2016.
Bruneians ranked the top among visitors to Sarawak, followed by the Indonesians, Filipinos and Singaporeans.
Their average length of stay was 5.8 days.
For the traditional long-haul market, Hii said Sarawak was now attracting more tourists from Britain and Europe than Sabah.
There was a 4% jump in British tourists last year.
Hii said Sarawak would continue to focus on culture, adventure and nature in its tourism promotions and marketing activities as the state had 27 ethnic groups with unique cultures and many national parks.