KUCHING: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg wants Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) to look into the possibility of engaging the private sector to promote and market Sarawak’s national parks and wildlife as tourism products.
Abang Johari suggested that the private sector could look into targeting specific tourists for premium tour packages, promoting the best of what Sarawak nature and national parks could offer.
“I would like SFC to look into the possibility to get the private sector to come in, and the private sector is good at promotion and also to find new markets. But for the asset itself must comply with the conservation, and that has to be done by our SFC.
“Perhaps, I will ask the management to look into that possibility and try to get the private sector to come in but must be controlled tourists, not open for mass tourists, and we charge premium so that we can get some revenue for us to upgrade the infrastructure within our national parks.
“I’m very confident that is the type of tourists we can attract that will give premium revenue to our state,” he said during the SFC 16th Anniversary Dinner here last night.
Abang Johari, who was a Tourism Minister for two terms since 2000, made the suggestion after encountering a tourist who was a bird watcher coming to Bako, here just to watch birds.
He said the reason why the initiative was targeted at specific types of tourists such as the bird watchers were because when he spoke to the bird watcher, he was told that the bird watcher spent a considerable amount of money just to come to the state to watch the various exotic birds.
On top of that, Abang Johari said he was told that the camera and imaging equipment brought by the bird watcher costed more than RM40,000 at the time.
“In other words we have to pay attention to this type of tourists. They have a lot of money, and are willing to spend so much just to see the birds,” he said.
On that note, Abang Johari also highlighted the importance of conserving the nature and environment of the state, so that not only these types of tourists would continue to come to Sarawak, but it would put Sarawak in the eyes of the world as one of the best nature tourists destinations.
“Because of that, we are attracting these tourists. We have to look after our nature. These are some of the attractions that we have, and these people (tourists) who come over here, they are rich people.
“That is the trend now because the world is having a problem where the natural habitats of these animals are declining, and they might go extinct. That is why thank God, we in Sarawak still have a lot of nature reserves, so we have to look after them properly,” he said.
Earlier, SFC Chairman Datu Len Talif Salleh in his speech talked about the declining population of Sarawak’s indigenous Helmeted Hornbills.
He said the reason for the decline was because of poaching, where a single catch of the bird could fetch for more than RM1,000 in the black market in China.
He said to date SFC had conducted more than 60 wildlife operations, arrested 33 suspects, rescued 1,000 wildlife and opened 11 investigation papers.
From those operations, Len Talif said SFC enforcement teams had confiscated 148 hornbill ivory and other wildlife parts.
Meanwhile, Abang Johari said recently, he was encouraged after meeting several European Union (EU) ambassadors, that if Sarawak were to keep up with its conservation efforts, EU might consider buying Sarawak’s oil palm products again.
This was following the bad reputation of oil palm plantations causing severe environmental impact in this region.
This had prompted the EU to ban imports of palm oil products from Malaysia and other regions, as well as phasing out the import of palm oil based biofuels by 2030.
“As you know our oil palm reputation is not that good in the EU. I met ambassadors from the EU, I told them about our conservation efforts, and they said if we have that management they will (consider to) buy our palm oil, provided that we can prove that we are also conserving our environment.
“Because of that I will not approve anymore opening of new oil palm plantations. We only do agro park for food production, at the same time we will replant our degraded forest.
“If we do that, I think in the next 10 to 20 years we will revert to what Sarawak was once was with lots of trees.
“But there must be a political will, and I hope you will support me to do it,” said Abang Johari.