KUCHING: Sarawak is still a ‘mystery’ — a pin-drop survey of overseas awareness on Visit Sarawak Year (VSY) reveals. For starters, travel-savvy youths in neighbouring countries took a wild guess that the state has more to offer than ‘the monkey with the big nose’.
This is despite the fact that it is Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY14) and that the state Tourism Ministry has launched its very own VSY campaign to prepare for the event.
The lack of awareness about VSY at the grassroots level in the region was made known by a Surabaya-based tour agency employee, who declined to be named. He made an observation in popular social media site Facebook on how the company’s tour package for Sarawak remained unpopular.
“Not many customers are aware of VMY14, let alone VSY. Most people who come to us usually prefer tour packages to Peninsular Malaysia, where they can access shopping, food, history and culture all at once. Sarawak and Sabah remain unpopular, except for the few who are into jungle trekking and mountain climbing,” he said.
His remark prompted The Borneo Post to do a quick survey among some overseas friends online, particularly those from Singapore and Indonesia as they are close to Sarawak in proximity and connectivity.
It was quite a surprise to learn that there are young people with ages between 20 and 40 who know very little about Sarawak tourism even though they are fairly travel-savvy and have ready access to social media and the Internet.
Kosen Pangtono was not aware that it was VMY14, adding that there was no noticeable promotion of Sarawak in his hometown Medan.
“Sarawak is the place with the big nose (Proboscis) monkey, isn’t it? I have not been there but I have heard about the eco-tourism, which isn’t a great point for us because we have got many eco-tourism spots here too. I would visit Sarawak, for its cultural diversity.
“I have been to other places in Malaysia such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Genting Highlands and Melaka.
“People visit places for a specific purpose, like how Kuala Lumpur and Penang are great for people who want shopping. Chinese Indonesians mostly prefer Singapore over Malaysia, while the really rich ones would go to Australia, USA or Europe,” observed the 26-year-old proprietor of a visual effects studio.
University student Rian Cahyadi, 21, has never heard much about Sarawak although he knew it as one of the two Malaysian states in Borneo.
“I have only been to Kuala Lumpur for a three-day holiday. It is a nice city. Maybe someday I will consider visiting Sarawak but I really don’t know anything about it. We usually learn about overseas tourism promotions through TV here and I don’t remember seeing any on Sarawak,” he said.
According to 32-year-old graphic designer and event organiser Richfield Edbert from Jakarta, he has seen endless TV and magazine advertisements on Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia Truly Asia seems to be about Kuala Lumpur and no other town or city in Malaysia. There is no promotion about Sarawak tourism here. I would want to know more about Sarawak as that is where my friend’s hometown is.
“Actually we can find out more about other towns in Malaysia through travel magazines, but if we are to depend on TV and non-travel magazine sources, it’s hard to find. Online search is usually more for people with travelling as a hobby,” he opined.
Singaporean Elise Tan, 31, is no stranger to VMY14 advertisements on TV but was unsure about ‘Visit Sarawak Year’ and has not heard any specific tourism promotion on the state.
“Geographically and environmentally, I know that Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo and that it has vast areas of rainforests and a rich diversity of fauna.
“However, seldom have I seen actual photos or videos of Sarawak as it isn’t quite the popular tourist destination amongst my
personal circle of friends. We have visited Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Penang, Melaka and Langkawi.
“I would consider Sarawak as a tourist destination, but not for this year as I have other destinations planned. Being a fond lover of furry animals, I’d love to visit the Kuching Cat Museum. I also hope to learn more about Sarawak’s cultures and some of the architectural scenes,” she said.
Fellow Singaporean 31-year-old engineering manager Ray Huang also echoed similar lack of knowledge about this being a tourism year for Sarawak.
“I don’t know a whole lot of Sarawak, except there is a lot of oil palm and Petronas Carigali is there. I have only been to Kuching and Miri once for a two-day working visit but I didn’t get to do any sightseeing besides a quick night tour around Kuching. I’m curious about the whole state, it’s so mysterious. I want to see the Kelabit and other hill tribes more.
“I would definitely consider Sarawak as a tourist destination, if I have time to travel, but unfortunately my schedule is completely packed,” he said.
There had been many programmes and activities to prepare the state tourism industry for the anticipated influx of tourists as the state tourism ministry is eyeing 4.2 million tourist arrivals for this year.
With culture, adventure and nature (or CAN) as our unique selling point and a growing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector, Sarawak should have no problem in meeting its target.
However, key industry players may want to consider more ways to attract Sarawak’s close neighbours who are well-connected through direct flights, by reaching out to common people at the grassroots and sharing with them what Sarawak has to offer other than “big nose monkeys” and mysterious tribes.