KUCHING: Sarawak’s approach to tourism is a calculated and holistic endeavour that is being delivered in stages to ensure that it is sustainable and on-going in the long term.
In its play, the state’s tourism chief wanted to attract Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) investors to help finance an enclave in Sarawak dedicated to everything Middle Eastern and enhance the state’s lure for Arab tourists.
Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, Minister of Tourism and Heritage Sarawak said the state must convinced Middle Eastern tourists who visited Malaysia to include Sarawak in their plans. One way would be to build them a holiday enclave that made them feel at home.
“Currently, Sarawak lacks the infrastructure to cater for Middle East tourists, who have specific needs,” Abang Johari was quoted as saying
in the upcoming edition of the Inside Sarawak 2011 investment report.
“Who better to develop this area than investors from the Middle East who know the market. If I had my way, I would bring Middle Eastern entrepreneurs to invest in Sarawak and build an enclave where every need of Gulf tourists is fulfilled.
“So, these visitors will not only enjoy doing the things they like to do during vacations but also get to see the natural beauty and environment of Sarawak,” he added.
Abang Johari said that the rainforests and Sarawak’s multicultural society and heritage would always be its strengths in terms of attracting tourists. With inside Sarawak targeting GCC investors, he said Middle Eastern visitors need more. They prefered to travel in family groups and liked to eat Middle Eastern food.
In addition, he said, tourists from the Gulf countries were not used to chilling out at a resort or hotel. They wanted to shop or visit an amusement park.
Abang Johari further said the resort province of Miri and greater Kuching area were ideal locations to build an enclave dedicated to Middle Eastern visitors.
“We are fortunate that Sarawak is big,” he said. “We can have enclaves for visitors from the Middle East, Chinese tourists and Western tourists, among others and these different market segments can interact with each other as well.”
He further pointed out that said he knew what Middle Eastern tourists wanted because of his efforts to reach out to Gulf visitors during an earlier stint as Sarawak’s tourism chief in the early 2000s. He travelled to countries such as UAE, Bahrain and Qatar to promote Sarawak as an eco-tourism destination.
“I tried my best to attract Middle Eastern tourists when I was looking after tourism before,” he said. “I told them this is a good place for you and your children to learn about the environment.
“But once they get here, they find they have nothing to do, the children are bored and they leave after one day. An Australian tourist can stay for one week just relaxing and reading books but a Middle East tourist cannot.”
In a message to potential investors from the Middle East, Abang Johari urged entrepreneurs to consider the possibilities in the ‘Land of the Hornbills’.
“What we need is the infrastructure and we want Middle East investors to help us build it,” he said. “Our advantage is that we have a tropical climate throughout the year. We have rain, sunshine and beautiful beaches. And food is not a problem because it is halal.”
With Abang Johari’s unique plan to create a designer city especially for Arab tourists, Sarawak might have found a way to unlock what could be a lucrative and elusive tourism market.