Sarawak has its own uniqueness that it needs to take advantage of. It should aim for the ‘seasoned traveller’, not the ‘beach tourist.’
SARAWAK has a totally unconventional tourism niche of its own, according to Dale Lawrence, PATA director of Corporate Communications.
We don’t have luxurious white beaches, ice-blue seawater or even the hopping nightlife that lure millions of tourists to such idyllic destinations as Koh Samui year after year.
What Sarawak has are raw materials — wildlife, culture and heritage combined with modern facilities like the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).
It makes for an entirely unique location for the PATA’s annual meeting here this year, and Lawrence can’t wait to show it off to the delegates, speakers and representatives who will be converging in the state capital in April.
With up to 39 chapters around the world, PATA is a membership association acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry.
In partnership with its private and public sector members, PATA enhances the sustainable growth, value and quality of travel and tourism to, from and within the region.
It also provides leadership to the collective efforts of nearly 100 government, state and city tourism bodies, more than 55 international airlines and cruise lines, and hundreds of travel industry companies.
Q: What will PATA’s role be during the annual meeting?
A: Every year, we have the annual meeting, and we use it to hold conferences that look at relevant business issues for travel and tourism. We want to get as many guest speakers and delegates here as we can. I am very, very excited about bringing our annual conference to Kuching.
What it will do for Sarawak, in general, is to help support the tourism infrastructure and encourage the ‘right’ sort of tourists because Sarawak is not a conventional tourism destination.
With strong contenders like Koh Samui or Phuket for luxurious beaches, for instance, Sarawak can’t really compete in this field but it has a uniqueness all its own that it needs to take advantage of. You should aim for the ‘seasoned traveller’ not the ‘beach tourist’.
Sarawak’s unique eco-structure, history, topography and how the state blends these elements with the 21st century are truly distinctive and one of its biggest selling points. With convention centres like BCCK adding value to this destination, Sarawak needs to learn how to persuade tourists to come and figure out what incentives can be given to delegates so that their visit here will be the experience of a lifetime.
Q: What challenges do you foresee for Sarawak tourism?
A: The challenges that Sarawak faces is that you have to encourage the people, build new structures, offer new services and roads. In terms of keeping the tourism industry revitalised — before you change or take that tourism product away — you have to think about what you are going to replace it with.
Some destinations are in denial about their colonial past but Sarawak is rich with it and not ashamed about it.
Sarawak can offer a solid platform for sustainable tourism. You don’t want hundreds and thousands of tourists coming here and leaving their trash behind.
Q: Seeing how the global recession has affected the rate of inbound tourists around the world, will Sarawak regain its numbers?
A: We’ve lost over 16 million international arrivals in Asia Pacific but we have to concentrate on the tourists who have come, and give them the experience of a lifetime. Based on historical trends, we’ll bounce back.
While I’m very impressed with the ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ tourism campaign, I have to ask whether Sarawak is getting enough air time? How many tourists, for instance, would fly beyond Kuala Lumpur?
The challenge right now, therefore, is to make sure that everybody has a greater awareness of Malaysia beyond KL, Penang and Langkawi. Capitalise on Sarawak’s spirit of adventure.
Lead by example, public and private sectors; set goals and targets that are realistic, achievable and sensible in the context of what you have and can deliver.
What is so encouraging is now that I’ve been here, I want to see what other roles PATA can perform to mediate and ensure that Sarawak’s profile is raised to make for growth in tourism because tourism makes an important contribution to the GDP. It may only contribute 10 per cent to the state’s overall GDP but when tourists come to spend their money here, it helps preserve and support the state in terms of employment.
Q: I understand part of PATA’s agenda is to encourage sustainable tourism practices. How do we apply them here?
A: We’ve been encouraging national and international tourism organisations to practise sustainable tourism for a while now. Currently, Japan Airlines is testing bio fuel.
For the vast majority, however, sustainable tourism is not a key factor in choosing their destination but if tourists go there and see that it is being practised, then they come away with a new appreciation and understanding of it.
Personally, I love it when I see hotels using alternative energy. In Australia, we receive government grants, rebates and incentives for using renewable energy.
There’s a very strong need for education in sustainable tourism and PATA can help.