‘Air-connectivity key to re-image Kuching experience’

KUCHING: The re-imaging of Kuching as a destination was part of the 5-Year Tourism Industry Transformation Programme started off in 2010, with one focus in mind – to improve the tourist experience in a very niche market, that is to position Sarawak as a home of ‘Adventure’ with elements of ‘Culture’ and ‘Nature’ (or CAN).

Sarawak, which is situated in the third largest island in the world, makes accessibility a major challenge but “The key challenge is to improve air-connectivity for visitors to experience the well kept secrets of Borneo,” said Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) CEO Datuk Rashid Khan in a press release.

The first phase to enhance this was to work with our airline partners operating through hub airports such as KLIA and Changi Airport by increasing air connectivity through them. The very least was to reduce transit and waiting time to connect not only to Kuching airport in Sarawak but also to airports in Sibu, Miri and Bintulu, he said.

“We also collaborate with the airlines to create more ‘city pairs’ to enable travellers to fly direct to Sarawak. On the domestic front, AirAsia is forthcoming and aggressive in developing city pairs such as between Kuching or Miri and Penang, Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu and Johor Bahru and Langkawi bypassing Kuala Lumpur altogether. Similarly in terms of regional flights, we have helped bring in Xpress Air and MASWings to Kuching from Pontianak.

“The second phase was to engage airlines like MAS, AirAsia, Silk Air and Malindo to operate more frequencies on existing routes. We are preparing for the eventual Asean Economic Community that will open up opportunities for airlines within Asean countries to capitalize on the implementation of the Asean Open Sky Policy Roadmap by 2015 with more liberal aviation agreement of a single market,” said Rashid.

Outside of Asean, STB has identified Taiwan, Hong Kong and China where there is a demand for outbound and inbound between Sarawak and them. Despite the lack of direct flights, visitor arrival figures see a healthy growth rate.

The Tourism Board is targeting idle planes lying overnight in their major airports and attract them to fly either scheduled or non-scheduled charters into Kuching or Miri airports and back – all within an 8- to 10-hour time frame without compromising on their normal schedules.

“We have also invested in our Marketing Communication to reimage Sarawak as a business and leisure tourism destination with a strong focus on adventure with elements of culture and nature (CAN) to offer different experiences in one place,” he said.

Kuching, the capital city, offers four nature parks on both land and water – Bako National Park, Kuching Wetland National Park, Kubah National Park and Talang Satang National Park, all within a 40- to 90-minute radius.

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