MIRI: Whenever a friend from out of town comes to visit, the one question they often ask is: What are the interesting places to visit in Miri?
Though it seems like a simple question, shamefully, I can’t answer the question.
The typical places of interest like the Grand Old Lady on top of Canada Hill, Lambir National Park, Tusan Beach, Borneo Tropical Rainforest, etc are, to me, the ‘usual’ tourist attractions. I am sure many would agree with me.
But are they sufficient enough to keep tourists and travellers coming back?
An avid traveller and businessman, Eric Chin, pointed out that tourism products are vital to the industry.
“But, do the relevant authorities realise that the itinerary for tourists is equally important?” Chin asked during an interview recently.
A travel agent whom Chin met recently had told him that there are many attractions that Sarawak could offer but said the government and industry players may not have realised the importance of itinerary.
“The latest attraction is none other than Tusan Beach where people could enjoy the beautiful blue tears. If it is merely enjoying the scenery after 30 minutes of driving for about 30 km from Miri City, it may not be worth the petrol and the ride,” he said.
Promotional strategy, he insisted, should be made in a way that it prepares itinerary packages from place to place that keep tourists occupied, making it worth their money and flight tickets.
“On this matter, the government should work hand-in-hand with the private sector to develop these places, to make them interesting,” he said, suggesting that chalets and eateries as well as water sports facilities be built here, as a way to keep visitors coming back.
“From beach sunbathing, volley ball court, snorkelling to observing the natural ‘Blue Tears’ phenomena etc., if these activities are offered to tourists, I am sure that the latter could enjoy themselves very much,” he said.
Offering tax return to the private sector as a way to appreciate their effort in developing the tourism industry is a great way that the government could consider, Chin suggested.
“Private companies want to help develop the industry. The government could provide financial support or planning assistance, either way or both, it is surely a win-win situation for the betterment of our economy and tourism industry.”
Preserve, not Demolish
Chin went on to criticise the government’s bold move in removing and rebuilding the old buildings and structures, making Miri slowly lose its identity and historical heritage.
“I’m sure that a lot of the
younger generation do not know that we had Long Jetty that was often likened to the Long Jetty in New South Wales in Australia. How about the unique old buildings that were rebuilt between 2003 and 2005? They should be preserved and made into homestay, protecting the original design and history just like Penang.”
Being only able to learn from old photos, Chin felt that the younger generation is missing out the real feeling of the once beautiful Miri, whilst the older generation can only reminisce about the old memories in photos and memories, which is quite sad.
When developing tourism inventory, facilities and services should be leveraged to improve visitors’ experience, Chin pointed out.
“While transportation remains a huge problem to visitors travelling from place to place, it should not create difficulty for tourists and travellers. Well-organised bus or taxi routes with fair charge keep travellers happy and encourage word-of-mouth,” he said.
More importantly, good transportation system attracts both tourists and travellers (or backpackers) to explore Sarawak, he said.
Airport facility, Chin said, is a great disappointment.
“Airport is the prime image that reflects the reputation of a country. Lavatory facility, comfortable waiting area, wireless internet connection, signboards etc., these should be provided in a basic standard that create convenience to travellers.”
Chin also suggested a demonstration house that offers tourists bird’s nest harvesting experience, enabling them to be more appreciative of Sarawak’s natural resources.
“Kampung Air at the riverbank of Sungai Miri is an unpolished gem. If the government puts in more efforts to build better facilities and a jetty, and restructure some of the old dilapidated houses into shops selling antiques and souvenirs, it could be a great tourist spot for Miri too.”
The globe-trotter who had visited countries with their own uniqueness, suggested that a tourist place should rekindle new and old sentiments that represent its own identity, thus the government should emphasise on ‘preserving and beautifying instead of demolishing and rebuilding’.
Chin also noticed that there are, in fact, a lot of activities by small groups of people with specific interests.
“One Borneo Extreme Motor Sport Club, a non-profit club established by extreme motor enthusiasts, often organised activities at dangerous trails in Bakam and Lambir. How about the drag race at Miri old airport in Lutong? And the famous Lambir and Canada Hill as the venues for hiking and sight-seeing?
There are so much more that tourists and travellers could do, thus, the selling point for Miri is wider than the handful of tourist attractions that are commonly promoted in the leaflets,” he said.
Chin recently set up a non-profit organisation ‘Miri Traditional Handicraft Studies Society’ which comprises young Mirians.
The members, he revealed, are young people with strong passion to do something for their hometown.
“They may not have much, but their passion keeps them going, studying the strategy and plans that could further develop Miri. All they need is to be heard by those who are willing to listen,” said Chin.