MIRI: It has been more than a decade since Miri was declared a city, even so, the development that has been happening in the city which was once a small fishing village is said to be below expectations.
Sharing his opinion on the local tourism industry, Meritz Hotel and Bintang Megamall general manager John Teo, in fact, has high expectations for the young city.
“Many visitors who come to Miri are still Bruneians who make up more than half of the total number of visitors, while others fall under the category of business travellers, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) delegates, government officials and leisure travellers.
“Undeniably, due to the high exchange rate of Brunei Dollar to Ringgit Malaysia, we have and still are having many Bruneians coming to Miri especially over the weekends. Many of them have even purchased housing properties here as their second home. Comparatively, the goods in Miri are considered cheaper than in Brunei, hence the popularity.”
On this issue, Teo pointed out that the hospitality industry plays a vital role because Miri has a handful of three to five-star rated hotels.
“Despite the year 2015 seeing an average rate of 67 pct occupancy in the lodging market, there may be a need for hoteliers to improve as they face competition from budget hotels, inns and homestays.”
Teo added that there were said to be more than 100 budget hotels, inns and homestays, both legal and illegal, here, providing more than 4,580 rooms.
“With the average price of RM120 (for budget hotel) to RM30 (inns and homestay), these rates actually hit hard on the star-rated hotels, resulting in the latter having to lower their room rates or do promotions in order to fill up their rooms,” he told The Borneo Post.
The extended operating hours at the Miri-Brunei checkpoint last year worries Teo as it may affect the lodging market negatively.
“Previously, Bruneians coming down to Miri usually had to stay at least two days and one night here because the border closed at 10pm. It means they rather spend more time here, staying the night and perhaps continue shopping the next day before heading home. (Ironically) The new policy means we are losing business badly,” he said, adding that there have been plans to call on the government to return to the previous policy in order to improve the local economy.
As for this year, Teo, who has more than two decades of experience in the hospitality industry, opined that Miri should be expecting a much lower occupancy rate.
This is because oil and gas companies are badly affected by the fall in fuel prices, he reasoned.
“The world is experiencing lower oil and gas prices as compared to two years ago. Since reaching the peak of US112 per barrel of oil in June 2014, the oil price has plummeted drastically.
“Many oil and gas companies have since ceased operation and some had undergone retrenchment in order to save cost. Indirectly, it could affect business as most companies are lowering their travelling expenses for their staff, resulting in the latter looking for cheaper accommodation alternatives,” Teo said.
As for tourism, Teo opined that the local authority and state government should establish and promote more places of interests here.
“Like other parts of Sarawak, Miri is multiracial with each ethnic group having its own language, culture and lifestyle. The authority can easily propose for a cultural village that puts all these colourful and culturally rich people in one place as a draw for tourists.”
Similarly, he added, the nice stretch of beaches here should not be put to waste.
“It will be nice to build a stretch of boardwalk similar to The Fisherman Wharf with, perhaps, eateries of local and international cuisines located along it. This will definitely be a place for locals and tourists to hang out in the evening. After all, a good eatery is always an attraction as people love to fill their stomach with good food.”
On the Petroleum Museum located near the famous Grand Old Lady, Canada Hill, Teo lamented that the historical place lacked proper maintenance.
“My suggestion would be, it should be handed over to the proper authority so that it can be properly upgraded, equipped with newer and state-of-the-art equipment to impress tourists and the general public.
Continuing on, Teo pointed to the importance of improving air connectivity.
“Presently, there is only one direct international flight from Singapore into Miri provided by AirAsia. Other international flights usually have to transit in Kuala Lumpur before landing in Miri.
This causes much inconvenience and is time consuming for passengers, hence it should be improved in order to attract more tourists.
“I strongly believe that Miri will attract more tourists if there are more international flights,” he added.