Tourism can be Miri’s trump card, if played right

A SAFE HAVEN: Sail boats and small ships berthing at the magnificent Marina Bay in Miri. The bay is located at a reclaimed land area within the vicinity of Tanjong Lobang. It is about 10 to 15 minutes drive from the resort city of Miri.

MIRI: It seems to require a lot of imagination to picture Miri as the green, vibrant resort city that its tagline so proudly proclaims.

One of the most common grouses we hear from locals is that Miri has no life. There’s nothing to do, and if given the choice most people would choose to take their holidays elsewhere rather than stay in the area.

If even the locals are saying there’s nothing to do here, what about the tourists?

In recent years, much has been said about the poor air connectivity between Miri and other places. Local tour agencies argue that the lack of flights to Miri has resulted in dropping tourist numbers.

We were told that the city’s tourism industry relies significantly on tourists who stopover on their way to Mulu. The emergence of direct flights to Mulu from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and from Kuching — thus bypassing Miri altogether — has added pressure to the struggling local players.

But upon closer inspection, poor air connectivity is not the sole reason behind Miri’s poor showing as a tourism destination.

CREATIVE STRUCTURE: A snapshot of a unique lighthouse in the shape of a seahorse taken in Miri. The sea horse is the official mascot of the Resort City of Miri. This artistic lighthouse is situated within the Marina Bay area there. — Photo by Wilfred Pilo

Airlines are businesses for profit. If market demand is strong enough the airlines would be more than happy to add as many flights to and from Miri as they can profit from.

But if the passenger load is not sufficient, there is little reason for airlines to put in more flights.

As it stands, the most viable way to increase air connectivity to Miri is for the city to focus on investing in its own tourism assets. The city should not just rely on its previous monopoly as the gateway to Mulu.

Miri must seek to unearth, polish and market its own potential so that tourists will have reason to come and stay.

Can Miri stand alone without Mulu as a tourism destination? The short answer to that appears to be yes, but much groundwork still needs to be laid.

One of the advantages that Miri has is that local tourism assets appear to be pretty much a blank canvas, ready to be shaped and molded into whatever products and packages the government and private sector see fit.

Take local beaches for instance.

People living in Miri currently have unfettered access to
some of the most beautiful, unspoilt coastline in the state, including Tanjong Lobang, Luak Esplenade, and the manmade Marina Bay.

Other gems such as Pantai Bungai near the town of Bekanu lie a mere one-hour’s drive away.  The potential for guided tours and homestays in that particularly picturesque area is, as yet, largely untapped.

Yet, some locals have told us that even though they know of Pantai Bungai, they have yet to visit because they don’t feel compelled to. This is a question which piqued the Borneo Post Adventure Team’s (BAT)’s interest since we first set foot in this fair city nearly three weeks ago, and a topic which we intend to explore further.

The recent announcements from the state Minister of Tourism of plans to develop Sibuti, Lambir and Bakam, followed by the mayor revealing RM100 million worth of development along Tanjung Lobang and Luak esplanade, which has been outsourced to the private sector, are timely.

With better facilities to attract visitors, it will surely shine a greater spotlight on the city’s gorgeous beaches from which residents currently enjoy breathtaking panoramas of sunsets over the South China Sea.

Time is of the essence. We were told that more Bruneians are choosing to head north to Sabah instead of Miri because of better facilities and attractions.

Miri needs a tourism masterplan which takes into account its close proximity to potential tourist hotspots without compromising the city’s livability and natural assets.

However, plans drawn up in haste usually result in waste. We’ve said it before that more construction does not necessarily equate to more development. A certain amount of finesse, an eye to the future and respect for the environment is required.

If played right, tourism has all the makings to be Miri’s trump card.

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