Sunday, November 17

Dark cloud over Bario tourism

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The decision by MASWings to raise airfares to Bario spells doom for homestay operators in the highland

MIRI: The decision by MASwings to raise ticket prices for foreigners starting Nov 1 has raised fears among the Kelabit community that it would ‘kill’ the growing tourism industry in Bario.

Dr Philip (centre), accompanied by Lucy on his right and Lilla, at the The Borneo Post office to express their views on the airfare hike by MASwings.

Rurum Kelabit Association president Dr Philip Raja said the community, particularly the 33 homestay operators in the Bario Highlands, are upset that they were not consulted prior to the sudden announcement on the hike.

“It will be a sad day for Bario come Nov 1. The airfare hike will choke and suffocate us, and homestay operators may have to close shop if foreign tourists don’t come,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday, adding the majority of their guests are those coming from all over the world.

Dr Philip stressed that the federal government needed to intervene and reverse the decision in favour of a more pragmatic rate that will not harm Bario’s tourism industry.

Under the new rate for foreigners, a Miri-Bario return ticket will cost RM1,037; Miri-Marudi (RM738); Miri-Lawas (RM922) and Miri-Labuan (RM908), while a Kuching-Mulu flight is priced at RM1,386.

Currently, MASwings mounts two Miri-Bario flights daily, with a one-way ticket costing RM118. Most seats are, however, sold out days or even weeks in advance.

A chartered flight could cost as much as RM22,000, as organisers of this year’s Pesta Nukenen found out.

State Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin had last week labelled the move by MASwings as ‘irrational’, saying the new rates would see tourists opting to go to other destinations outside Sarawak.

Meanwhile, Raja View Inn operator Lilla Raja suggested that federal Transport Minister Anthony Loke come to Bario to see for himself the potential impact that the move by MASwings could have on the economic lifeline of the local community.

Echoing Dr Philip’s view was Bario Homestay Association secretary Lucy Bulan, who operates Labang Longhouse Homestay.

She said the nearly six-fold airfare increase was unacceptable and would drive away foreign visitors, and suggested MASwings increases the number of their flights rather than raise prices.

“We need more flights into Bario to grow tourism, not more expensive airfares.

“The majority of our clients are foreign tourists who are backpackers, not those who stay in five-star hotels.”