KUCHING: Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg believes the Wind Caves and the Fairy Cave in Bau near here can outshine the Stone Forest in Kunming, China.
The Minister of Tourism, however, said his recent visits to both caves in Bau left him with the impression that the two tourism sites had not been properly managed and maintained.
“I went to the Wind Caves and the Fairy Cave last week. I can tell you we can compete with the Stone Forest in Kunming. Our Wind Caves and Fairy Cave are better than the Stone Forest. But when I was there, there was no signage. And when staff members are supposed to provide services, they were nowhere to be found,” he said before witnessing the key handing-over ceremony for Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat at Hilton Hotel here yesterday.
As such, Abang Johari said he would propose to the State Cabinet to appoint a private corporation to take over the management of the two caves to provide better services to visitors, particularly with the state expecting more tourist arrivals given that the Kuching-Hong Kong direct flight would be launched in April.
Last year, he said, Sarawak recorded 4.8 million tourist arrivals, more or less the same as the figure in 2014.
He took pride that the state still managed to maintain its tourist arrivals at nearly five million despite the severe hazy situation last September.
“Ever since Kuching was declared as a City of Unity, the world has known Kuching as a peaceful city and Sarawak a peaceful state.
“Even with the haze last year, we still had 4.8 million tourist arrivals. Without haze, we may get five million.”
On Sarawak’s tourism plan, Abang Johari said the state government is in the midst of discussions with MASwings to operate seaplane services at the Batang Ai Lake.
In recalling his visit to Maldives, he said it was impressive to see the seaplane pilot there using a tie, with shorts and slippers.
“We have suggested that MASwings do the same. If they cannot do this, I will recommend that Hornbill (Skyways Sdn Bhd) take over, and we do it using Twin Otter.”
Quoting a report compiled by the World Tourism Organisation, he said the development of eco-tourism would be the main driver of the global tourism industry.
Citing New Zealand as an example, he said the country had shifted its economy from agriculture-based to tourism-based following the blockbuster film series ‘The Hobbit’.
He felt that Malaysia and Sarawak, being rich in nature and culture, could take advantage of the international tourism trend to achieve higher rate of success.
“The new class of travellers want to see nature, they want to go hiking and biking. We have that advantage provided that we are able to position ourselves towards the trend.”
Abang Johari also pointed out that Sarawak would focus on lake tourism beginning this year.
“The first one is the Batang Ai Lake, and we will also develop Bakun Lake, and then Murum Lake and Baleh Lake. I do not want to call it dam. And by calling them lake, you give a different perception.”
He added these lakes would emerge among the main attractions in the state’s tourism industry.