MIRI: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will launch direct flight services from Kuching to Balikpapan City in neighbouring Kalimantan in Indonesia in May.
Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Abang Johari Abang Haji Openg said the move would open up new frontiers of tourism and socio-economic prospects.
He said MAS would operate the Kuching-Balikpapan services using Boeing 737 aircraft and there would be two flights every week.
It will be a direct flight from Kuching but the return flight will be via Miri and Sibu.
There are more than 18,000 expatriates working in Balikpapan alone in the oil and gas industries there. This is a huge market that we in Sarawak can benefit from, he told a press conference after a dialogue with the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) Sarawak chapter.
Johari said the state government was grateful to MAS for starting the new sector which would open up the relatively untapped tourism market in Kalimantan.
He said the direct flight to Balikpapan would complement the existing Kuching-Pontianak direct flight services currently run by MAS using the 50-seater Fokker aircraft.
By the end of this year, MAS may operate the London-Kuala Lumpur-Kuching route.
We hope to connect this to Miri and Mulu to enable easier access for international tourists to northern Sarawak, he said.
Johari said these new flight services were part of an ongoing effort undertaken by the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry, MAS, the state government, the Tourism Board and other tourism-related players to boost tourist arrivals to this region.
He said tourism development in Sarawak was progressing well, as indicated by the increase in revenue in the hotel industry.
MAH (Sarawak) president Edward Holloway said hotels with three-star ranking and above had recorded about RM150mil in total earnings last year, an increase of 8% from 2001.
He said hotels recorded an estimated 1.2 million room guests last year and MAH expected the figures to increase considerably this year with the expected increase in domestic tourists.