Local tourism industry needs shot in the arm for marketing

MIRI: The state government has put in much effort to market Sarawak to tourists from all over the world.

However, it is noted that there are fewer Asian tourists compared to Western tourists coming ro our shores. If there is one reason that could explain Sarawak’s low popularity among China and Hong Kong tourists compared to other countries, it could be marketing or lack of it or wrong focus.

“We are all saddened by the news of Hong Kong-Kuching flight suspension by Hong Kong Airlines earlier this year. It is a brutal truth, but we cannot deny it nor give up. I can say the tourism board could be focusing on the wrong direction,” said Wilson Chiam, managing director of Brighton Travel & Tour Sdn Bhd, in an interview recently.

Western tourists, he said were more adventurous and nature-loving people, which is why they love exploring Sarawak’s natural heritage – Lambir National Park, Mulu National Park, etc.

Free independent travellers (FIT), he added, were mostly foreign backpackers who wanted to explore every corner of Sarawak.

“Western travellers are the least of our worries because almost every nature and adventure package we are promoting, are able to attract many of them who are willing to spend time and money to explore Sarawak.”

To date, Chiam has done inbound trips for tourists from United States, Australia, New Zealand and European countries.

Meanwhile, in comparison between tourists from Asian countries – China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Singapore – Chiam said Taiwanese tourists were more nature-loving and adventurous.

“It is a whole different perception when it comes to tourists from China, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

Recalling being asked for a Wifi password by a Hong Kong traveller during a familiarisation trip, Chiam said it went to show how different tourists were from one country to another, according to their needs.

“Perhaps, it was the different lifestyle that made them difficult to accept jungle-trekking, putting away technological gadgets and temporarily cutting off any sort of connection,” he said.

Tusan Beach is starting to attract visitors. — Photo by Rick Wong

Tusan Beach is starting to attract visitors. — Photo by Rick Wong

Promoting right package

Chiam said a travel agency’s main role was to recognise and promote the right package to the right people.

The truth is ‘in Sarawak, there isn’t any standard package that works as a systematic guideline for tourists’. Eager to explain his words, Chiam showed a city map obtained from Singapore’s Visitors Information Centre – tourist could find a guideline on where and how they could visit the recommended places of interest.

“More so, they actually help tourists plan their visit, provide GPS of the mentioned location, and the options of mode of transportation.”

In the case of Sarawak’s tourism marketing, our main focus is usually natural heritage, diverse culture (of the natives) and adventure exploration.

“I have been told by my (foreign) clients that they thought people here really lived on trees, and the thing they most worried about coming here is the mud. We cannot blame Peninsula and the rest of the world for their wrong perception of Sarawak.”

Rome was not built in a day, said Chiam, hence, the state government and industry players should sit down and work on plans that benefit all parties – tourists, industry players and the government. Transportation, he added, was another issue still faced by visitors here.

“Bus service is hardly available. The only option for them is taking the taxi, but the high fare set by drivers could give visitors a shock of their life,” he said.

To get to from one place to another like Kuching to Miri, the bumpy road is already out of the question. Chiam said the only faster mode of transportation was by plane, which was so expensive that many tourists were shocked.

“Not everyone is willing to fork out RM1,000 for a couple of nights trip to Mulu, inclusive of flights and hotel.”

With Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg as chief minister, whose focus is on developing the state’s tourism industry, Chiam said he was happy with his (Abg Johari) latest proposition that local tour agency should liaise with their counterparts in Brunei. It could really help boost Miri’s tourism industry to include Brunei in the package, said Chiam.

Two men playing Sape a traditional music instrument of Orang Ulu people. — Photos by Wilson Chiam

Two men playing Sape a traditional music instrument of Orang Ulu people. — Photos by Wilson Chiam

New marketing alternative

Chiam, who set up his company more than six years ago, also brings tourists to China and European countries. His experience has taught him to think out of the box, to take the road less taken.

“In fact, there are a lot of hidden gems awaiting us to explore and show to the world. Tusan Beach in Bekenu, for example, has actually existed for many years. It is only after the appearance of the blue tears that visitors started to come.

“What about Long Bedian and Long Pilah among the many undiscovered great places. The beautiful waterfall, fresh and cold breeze and green scenery there are very therapeutic, especially those who have stress due to their hectic lifestyle.”

A tour agent from China, Chiam revealed, once told him that Sarawak’s natural heritage was almost similar to China. However, the advantage of Sarawak is that its nature is still in its untouched, original form.

“I agree with this and with the right upgrade of basic facilities like toilets, transportation and accommodation, tourists are more than happy to stay longer,” he said.

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