IN Sarawak, visitors who had nothing to do with the Brooke government service or with the Borneo Company or the coal mining at Simunjan or the gold and antimony extraction at Bau were all travellers, not tourists, by definition of the period.
James Brooke’s secretary, Spenser St John in his book ‘Life in the Forests the Far East’ Volume 1, Oxford University Press,1974, writes: “ Madame Pfeiffer, the traveller, suddenly made her appearance among us in December, 1851; she was a woman of middle height, active for her age, with an open countenance and a very pleasant smile. She lived with us for some days, and then we took her to visit the Dayaks of Sirambau…”
The United Nations General Assembly declared 1967 as the International Tourist Year. And Malaysia, having seen how Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan had benefitted greatly from earnings of the travel trade, jumped into the band wagon by starting a Ministry of Tourism and forming a Tourism Development Corporation. I was a board member of that corporation.
Under Minister Khir Johari hotels, big and small, in KL and Penang were encouraged to go all out to woo the tourists to come to Malaysia by joining the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) and bidding for a conference of players of the industry and travel writers to be held in KL so as to put Malaysia on the tourist map. The conference was successfully held in KL – with the workshop in Penang and the post-conference tour for travel writers in Kuching.
By then Sarawak had already started a Tourist Association of its own. It was run by the private business men from well known families – Chairman Tan Han Boon with Secretary TC Lim, with active support of Wee Hood Teck of Bian Chiang Bank, Ambrose Wong of Borneo Hotel, Sylvester Chai of Sennet Travel. Siah of Straits Agencies, Choo Poh Hin of CPH Agencies. SC Chan of the Sarawak Tribune and Desmond Leong of the Vanguard were helpful in reporting the activities of the Association but it was Wee Hood Teck who paid for all the costs of producing and printing of the first tourist booklet which was of great help to the visitors. For good photographs we relied on our good friend – Ho Ah Chon for free. Those were the days!
Spencer Ong and Yu Loon Ching had been strategically placed in Singapore to divert some of the tourists normally bound for Bali to Sarawak. When Sarawak government under Rahman Yakub gave its full support to the industry at the state level, it sent a strong team to the PATA Conference in 1973.
Led by permanent secretary, Arni Lampan; Director of Customs Andrew Chan Nam Wah and Director of Radio Malaysia Sarawak, Salleh Askor. Through the articles about Sarawak, the travel writers invited to the state had put Sarawak on the tourist map.
I mention all these names because I have fond memories of all of them; though many of them have joined their Maker, yet their contribution to the tourism industry has been immense in the sense that the present stage of the industry would not have been achieved without a firm foundation laid by them – a synergised partnership between the public and the private sectors as represented by those names. This is an opinion of someone who has participated in it all. Though I was on the Board of the Malaysian Development I had failed to bring to Sematan the Club Med – having lost badly to Cherating in Terengganu so my contribution to the industry is minimal indeed.
People in the tourism industry which could only attract 400 visitors to the state in 1967 but has swelled to a few millions now should not forget the efforts of the pioneers.
The small number that the local promoters and our men at Singapore were able to talk into coming to Sarawak increased in size gradually but as time went on it got bigger and bigger. Not all modern travellers to the state are like Madam Pfeiffer ‘middle height, active for their ages, with an open countenance, and a pleasant smile.’
There are so many of them with various characters and individual idiosyncrasies and we welcome them all. It is their dollars that matter, not the height or appearance. Many don’t even smile at you but you must smile at them.
An appreciation plaque
It has come to my ears that this year there will be gifts and prizes to be given away by the Tourism Ministry to deserving individuals, companies and institutions for their contributions towards the success of the industry. Excellent. May I submit my recommendation too? Think of the pioneers through the medium of a simple plaque inscribed with “Many Thanks For The Pioneers Of Tourism Trade from the Tourism Industry Sarawak”, and placed in some Tourism office somewhere. That plaque would be greatly appreciated by the relatives of those pioneers mentioned above. During their days they could have spent quality time with their families but had to forego such luxuries for the sake of developing a new industry – the industry without chimneys- with great economic potential to the state. They – government servants led by Arni Lampan and business people led by Tan Han Boon and Wee Hood Teck – had the foresight that we must cast in thoughts for future generations of tourism operators.
I may have possibly missed names of other pioneers of the industry specially those outside Kuching but the general wording of that plaque will be inclusive of theirs. They would forgive me for any inadvertent omission because they understand that I’m in the process of slowly losing my marbles.
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