Sarawak to woo more tourists

KUCHING: The Sarawak government will issue a special entry pass for tourists on chartered flights to the state via Miri or Sungai Tujuh checkpoints.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the entry pass would replace the visa-on-arrival for tourists from China and India based on the state’s autonomy on immigration matters.

The special entry pass, with a validity period of 120 hours and which can be extended, will take effect immediately.

“Sarawak is aggressively promoting tourism to the Chinese market. The state is also collaborating with Brunei to bring in tourists from China but is faced with a problem that our northern entry points are not gazetted to issue visa-on-arrival,” he said.

Abang Johari, who is also the state’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, said it would not be an issue for the state capital because the Kuching International Airport entry point is allowed to issue visa-on-arrival to tourists from China and India.

He said the state government introduced the special pass because Sarawak would be receiving 10 chartered flights from Hubei province, China, between next month and February next year.

“If the response is encouraging, the promotion will be continued as scheduled charters,” he added.

Abang Johari said the pass would only be issued for organised tours and not for independent travellers, so that movement of these tourists could be monitored.

The special entry pass would also allow Chinese tourists in Brunei to visit Sarawak, he said, adding that Brunei was an important tourism hub for the state due to connecting flights between Bandar Seri Begawan and Shanghai.

According to Tourism Malaysia, from January to November last year, 1.5 million tourists from China spent an average of RM3,335 per person, which amounted to RM5bil.

“In support of our efforts to attract more tourists to the state, all CIQs (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complexes) in Sarawak should have the authority to issue entry passes to Chinese tourists to the state, especially via Brunei,” he said.

Abang Johari said the state government was seeking the Federal Government’s cooperation on the matter. His ministry has written to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and was waiting for a reply.

Section 5 of the Immigration Act 1959/63 (Act 155) provides the power to the minister, by way of gazette notification, to approve routes and declare immigration control posts, landing places, airports or points of entry which the minister thinks necessary.

Abang Johari said the director of Immigration Sarawak has the authority to issue the pass under Part VII of the Immigration Act, 1959/63.

As of end of September, Sarawak received 28,000 tourists from China, an increase of 10% compared to the whole of last year.