Saturday, August 15

Boosting Sarawak’s tourism industry in 2014


As one of the most lucrative industries in Malaysia, the tourism industry is expected to garner total receipts of RM168 billion by 2020.

According to Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Malaysia is expected to earn that amount from the targeted 36 million tourist arrivals by 2020 under the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP).

Looking at Sarawak, if the current trend continues, total tourism receipts could breach the double digit RM10 billion revenue figure during Visit Malaysia Year next year, spurred by higher spending from more tourist arrivals and participations in various events and conferences.

According to data from the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak, the state recorded RM6.62 billion in total tourism receipts in 2010, RM7.91 billion in 2011 and RM8.57 billion in 2012.

Given such an upward trend, total tourism receipts would fetch an estimated more than RM9 billion this year and could potentially increased to more than RM10 billion in 2014 as Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY) looms.

Source: Immigration Department Malaysia

Meanwhile, the state will showcase its own activities and promotional events to attract more tourists to visit Sarawak in conjunction with VMY2014.

These events are envisaged to draw more tourist to the state besides lifting the economy of Sarawak by encouraging more spending and travels.

Some of the top annual events and highlights include Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo International Yachting Challenge, Sarawak Regatta, Borneo Jazz, Mukah Kaul Festival, World Harvest Festival, Borneo International Kite Festival, Borneo Cultural Festival and Tidal Bore Carnival.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said, “The Ministry of Tourism Sarawak will highlight 13 major tourism events in conjunction with VMY 2014.

“These 13 major events will create excitement and provide value added activities for tourists to see and do while visiting Sarawak.

“In preparation for VMY 2014, the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak has embarked on a proactive initiative to launch our very own Visit Sarawak Year campaign.

“The objective is to be ahead of the VMY 2014 campaign.

“This will prepare the State tourism industry on the anticipated influx of tourists.

“At the end of next year, we hope to achieve increased arrivals and increased revenue for the tourism sector.

“We want to increase tourism contribution towards our Gross Domestic Product’s (GDP) growth to second place from third place currently,” he told The Borneo Post.

He pointed out that the ministry is eyeing 4.2 million of tourist arrivals in 2014, a progressive increase from an estimated figure of 4.1 million in 2013.

He revealed that there were four million of tourist arrivals last year into Sarawak.

Out of the four million visitors, 2.63 million people were foreign visitors and 1.4 million people were domestic travelers.

From the 2.63 million foreign tourist arrivals, 1.73 million were from Brunei, followed by 417,072 people from Indonesia, 113,174 people from The Philippines, 55,674 people from Singapore and 43,326 people from China.

Apparently, the top three biggest percentage increased of foreign arrivals into Sarawak last year were from the Middle East (87 per cent); Thailand (78.3 per cent) and Bangladesh (67.2 per cent).

Johari noted that Sarawak has a lot of attractiveness to offer to tourists.

“Sarawak has always been consistent in offering our unique selling point (USP) of culture, adventure and nature (CAN).

“Sarawak will still be offering those specialties and will target the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market sector apart from the overall leisure sector.

“As mentioned above, the CAN selling points will be the pillars of attraction to all the market segments,” he said.

He explained that for the leisure segment, tourist who prefers to move around will certainly look for authentic experiences of culture and adventure.

Johari added that for travelers who like eco-tourism, they will spend more time with the local community and visit the national parks.

On the other hand, he said for certain educational exchange programme, the strong appeal for foreign parents to send their children to Sarawak to study is due to the authentic living experiences which they could get from locals besides the reasonable tuition fees offered by public and private institutions of higher learning.

“So, in general, our pull factor surrounds with CAN,” Johari observed.

Emerging eco-tourism events

Interestingly, one of the emerging niche segments and pull factor in eco-tourism which is being popularised lately is golf.

The sport is also listed as one of the entry points projects (EPP) for the tourism sector in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

A check on the Peformance Management and Delivery Unit  (Pemandu) a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department’s website reveals that golf tourism contributed a total of RM296 million to Malaysia’s economy in 2012.

It said although the country’s golf industry has grown rapidly in recent years, Malaysia has yet to be considered a major golf destination.

It added that the Malaysian Golf Tourism Association (MGTA) set up in March 2011 plays a central role in the EPP which tasks include coordinating efforts by the various local golf tour operators, golf clubs, golf courses, hotels and media to promote Malaysia as a desired golf destination and increase the number of visiting golfers.

It pointed out that MGTA also acts as a facilitator for the industry by implementing various programmes to boost the number of visiting golfers.

In Sarawak, Sri Aman will be further developed with an 18-hole golf course to woo foreign tourists.

Earlier during an event in Sri Aman, Johari said “The Tourism Ministry plans to build a golf course and a floating jetty in the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) to spur Sri Aman’s eco-tourism.

“These two proposals plans are meant to enable foreign tourists, especially those from China, South Korea and Japan, to sample our eco-tourism before the experience the ‘Benak’ phenomenon here,” he said.

As for the proposed floating jetty,Johari said it would enable tourists to take a closer look at the crocodile habitat at Sungai Batang Lupar in Sri Aman using boats.

Meanwhile, Pesta Sematan, one of the eco-tourism festivals is poised to be upgraded to be among the top ten on the State’s tourism calendar in the next three years.

The festival, which is being held annually at Sematan, has attracted more than 20,000 people with sport events, competition and games.

One of the latest sports added to this year’s festival is the Muaythai; a Thai combat sport apart from cycling, running and dancing competition.

The event’s patron Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem believes that Sematan has the potential to be turned into an eco-tourism hub in the future.

In the central region of Sarawak, the annual Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari is also one of the popular events for eco-tourism.

Some of the activities include the regatta or boat paddling competition apart from venturing to explore the flora and fauna in the rainforest and along the Baleh River.

Medical tourism continues to grow

Apart from eco-tourism, medical tourism is also on the rise as people strive to seek better medical treatment and healthcare services in big cities.

Normah Medical Specialist Centre (NMSC) managing director and chief executive officer Dato Dr. Au Yong Kien Hoe foresees that medical tourism will grow as time passes on.

This is because people, especially those living in suburban, rural areas and from neighbouring Indonesia, travel to big cities such as Kuching to seek better medical treatment and healthcare services due to advancement in medical technology and more medical specialists here.

He believes that the private healthcare industry in Sarawak will continue to receive higher demand in the future.

He notes that there would be more than 20,000 Indonesians coming to Sarawak to seek medical treatment annually.

“The private healthcare services will continue to grow as population expands and it is also important not only for it to flourish, it will also be good for a private foreign hospital to operate here.

“This is because it is important that we will be exposed to international competition and make sure that we can compete with the same standard with other private healthcare providers.

“It will benefit the local people so they have more choices of hospitals to seek  When asked on the reasons why some patients travel overseas to countries such as Singapore or Australia to seek medical treatment Dr. Au Yong replied “This is because they are not aware of the quality and standard of our local hospitals.

“Sometimes, they lack confidence in local hospitals and it is our duty to continue to develop in terms of quality and standard.

“So, eventually, our local people are coming to us rather than to overseas,” he said.

He explained that one of the key milestones is to gain recognition adding that this will give confidence to our local people.

He noted that NMSC has been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) – an independent organisation responsible for the development and application of Malaysian Heatlhcare Accreditation Standards, in the last nine years and the Joint Commission International (JCI) which is an American accreditation in the last three years.

He noted “Only a few hospitals in Malaysia have achieved the JCI accreditation.

“Despite the accreditation, it is important that NMSC continues to move forward in terms of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) with regards to patient safety standard and best practices.

“Standard of care in NMSC is as good as or even higher than hospital in overseas,” he pointed out.

Similarly, the specialist centre in a recent statement said the Malaysia Healthcare Travel has granted the outstanding achievement award to NMSC as a result of higher number of healthcare travelers and highest revenue for healthcare travelers for East Malaysia in 2012.

It added that the Ministry of Health’s outstanding achievement award is to recognise the contributions of healthcare provider in Malasysia from the perspective of medical tourism.

NMSC pointed out that it is the first time ever the awards are being given to all the healthcare providers in Malaysia.

More MICE  on the way

The tourism industry would not be complete without hosting some major international conferences and exhibitions to attract high level delegates and personalities to woo the crowd over to the state.

Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB), the tourism marketing arm of Sarawak has been actively promoting Sarawak to various delegates and meeting planners around the world using the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) approach.

SCB chief executive officer Mike Cannon said, “SCB organises familiarisation trips for the media and to prospective clients to Sarawak.

“This is to showcase the destination and the type of activities they can expect to see when they bring their event here.

“Those trips really provide an in-depth look on the destination and its offerings.

“At the same time, it enables the opportunity to meet the local suppliers, check out the venues and familiarise themselves with other industry members that will assist them throughout their stay here.

“We also work closely with the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) to promote Sarawak as a business events destination,” Cannon said.

He added that other promotional events SCB is conducting include attending international business events, trade shows in Frankfurt, Germany; Barcelona; Spain, the US and Australia.

Besides that, he said SCB advertises in business trade magazine targeting clients from the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, China, Singapore and Asia.

He pointed out that the organisation also engage in online marketing such as postings on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Youtube accounts plus on its own website to increase the awareness to prospective clients.

In terms of what Sarawak is able to offer to delegates, Cannon explained that Sarawak’s unique selling point is its old-fashioned appeal and its sense of adventure.

“By leveraging on the Borneo Brand, Sarawak represents the land of charm and romance, of history and culture, unsullied by modern trappings yet able to marry the best of technology with its wild soul.

“Here, in Sarawak, the Old World charm is complemented by modern technology and corporate culture.

“Nowhere else on earth offers such extraordinary and efficient business capabilities coupled with the natural wonder of orang utans and 130 million-year old rainforests,” Cannon highlighted.

He said Sarawak has developed the most diverse options and possibilities for incentives programmes, teambuilding and ideas for themed parties based on culture and eco-tourism.

Cannon revealed that SCB’s topical corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme is very popular among the meeting planners.

This includes Heart-to-Heart with the orang utans; Habitat for Humanity – which is getting connected with people from the longhouse or even programme specially tailor-made for certain group.

He added that whilst those activities will be included in the conventions programme, SCB also organises exciting pre and post tours programme for spouse and family of the delegates.

One of those he pointed out is its Tribal Wisdom Speaker programme, where the best speakers from Sarawak’s successful businesses, artists and professionals who are also from Sarawak’s ethnic tribes come together to share their life experiences and reveal how their tribal ancestry has influenced their success.

Cannon said these motivational sessions are fully sponsored by SCB and their effort can be used as part of a bid presentation or at a cocktail event to highlight the work done by the organisation.

He noted that those speakers are given prior training on presentation and performance, all of which is provided by SCB.

“The end results is a chance to highlight Sarawak’s many ethnic tribes whilst preserving the authenticity and the heart of the destination that will be passed on to the delegates, inspiring them with the tribal rhythms of Sarawak,” Cannon said.

Efforts by SCB to promote Sarawak tourism

When asked on the allocation of funds by SCB to promote MICE and its activities, Cannon responded by saying, “It goes way beyond money, in other words, Sarawak offers more than financial sponsorship options.

“We also offer an added value experience for delegates and meeting planners.

“The state government has a special 10-year RM42.5 million convention sponsorship fund from 2006 to 2016 from which meeting hosts can apply for additional funding support.

“Where the event is international, this support is in addition to the Federal support provided by MyCEB.

“Our focus is yield beyond the economics and we are very interested in supporting events that will bring in greater opportunities for additional research, education and trade opportunities,” he said.

When asked about what is the objective that SCB is looking to achieve at the end of 2014 and beyond, he said “At the end of the day, we want to win more convention bids and further promote Sarawak as a globally competitive destination for business events.

“Currently, we have yet to really crack the national market that traditionally accounts for the majority of business in second tier cities.

“Besides, there is also still a lack of knowledge of the great venues and facilities here in Sarawak among our national organisers,” he said.

He noted that for large corporate meetings where one company is covering the entire cost of the whole delegation, the cost of airfares and transit times can be a hurdle to overcome.

Therefore, he said SCB focuses on smaller groups of 500 people and below for corporate meetings and incentives.

This, he observes, will ensure that the delegates will be able to enjoy an authentic experience on the ground as Sarawak’s attractions are best experienced in small groups.

“To round off 2013, we will be partnering with the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industries (SCCI) on a joint business mission to Shanghai, China.

“The objective of this mission is to expose investment opportunities that, in turn will generate personal contacts and new leads for business events.

“This mission runs in conjunction with the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) Annual Congress in which we shall also be participating.

“We are taking a five members team to “observe and learn” at ICCA as we progress towards hosting the 2016 ICCA Congress in Kuching.

“However, our core focus still remains to venture forth and win more bids for Sarawak, and at the same time establish media relations in West Malaysia on top of our local and international media relations.

“We shall also take part in trade shows such as Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) in Australia, The worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events (IMEX) in Frankfurt, Germany and IMEX America to name a few,” he revealed.

As for 2014, Cannon notes that Sarawak can expect to welcome a few international events among others include ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), Routes Asia, Asia Pacific Orthodontic Congress (APOC) and Asia Pacific Regional Conference of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA).

Hospitality industry to benefit as well

Aside from that, the hospitality industry which is one of the sub-sectors supporting the tourism industry in Sarawak is also expected to gain from VMY 2014.

For instance, Pullman Kuching, one of the hotels in Sarawak believes that VMY 2014 will lift the occupancy rate of hotels besides showcasing Sarawak’s multi-cultural races and unique culture to more tourists and business delegates.

Its general manager Eric Tan said, “ We foresee bright prospects ahead for the hospitality industry in VMY 2014 as there are 16 international events to be held throughout Sarawak.

“Those events are going to bring in more revenue to the tourism industry and boost up the economy of the state.

“For 2014, we expect to achieve 65 per cent occupancy rate for the hotel rooms, a marginal increase from 62 per cent year-to-date this year.

“Currently, 60 per cent of our businesses is made up of business travelers while the remaining 40 per cent is leisure.

“Year-on-year, our business has grown between five per cent to 10 per cent since our opening in 2010 contributed by the food and beverage segment and the services segment which made up of acommodation, the use of function rooms and ballrooms for meetings and others.

“We expect this trend to continue in the future supporters by more events such as MICE.

“In fact, we have managed to secure advanced room bookings from our customers as far as 2017,” he pointed out.

With its joint collaboration with SCB and the Sarawak Tourism Board to various events and trade shows, Pullman Kuching is set to welcome more visitors especially from overseas.

Tan said the company is also promoting Sarawak and Kuching as a unique destination to foreigners by taking advantage of its regional presence in Shanghai, Singapore, Jakarta and Vietnam offices by cross-selling its services to foreign tourists.

Moreover, Tan foresees an increase for online bookings of hotel rooms due to aggresive marketing by the company’s personnel besides leveraging on its strong brand name as an affliate of the famous Accor Hotels.

He revealed that online booking of hotel rooms from visitors staying at Pullman Kuching has increased from 22 per cent in 2011 to 38 per cent as of year-to-date in 2013.

He believes that there will be more visitors using online booking in the future and observed that more tourists arrivals will be coming from Indonesia and Brunei as well as from Australia, United Kingdom and France.

He noted that some of the annual events such as the Rainforest World Music Festival has been able to pull in the tourists with most of them are regular arrivals.

Overall, Tan is upbeat about the tourism industry outlook for next year and expects to welcome more travelers with an open arms to Sarawak.