Monday, March 1

Rebooting domestic tourism post Covid-19


The Giam Klimau waterfall is a popular tourist spot. — Photo by Anny Soo

WHEN Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the domestic tourism sector could resume operation from June 10 after Covid-19 had brought the leisure industry in the country to a standstill, leading to the cancellation of the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, the question was “Where should we start?”

Domestic tourism is a good first step to help the local holiday business sector back on its feet – by resuming, among others, the operations of domestic tours, food courts, shopping malls and recreational parks, as well as the organising of sports and other outdoor events.

Short road trips or day trips to nearer destinations are good options for people to visit places accessible via land routes.

The Tekiwit Waterfall – another tourist attraction. – Photo by Chu Chee Ning

As the northern gateway to Sarawak, Miri, which has morphed from a sleepy fishing village into the oil and gas hub in the country, has plenty to offer.

The Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) has been actively promoting domestic places of interest on social media such as those found in Miri where locals can visit and explore.

The STB constantly shares information on beautiful local landmarks in several languages, including Mandarin, English, and Japanese, to attract tourists.

Most of the information is based on the experiences of local travellers and explorers and passed on through word of mouth to reach a wide audience.

According to STB, narration and elaboration of these places in different languages alongside attractive photographs will enable people to visualise the real ambience and generate greater interest.

Recently, popular local tourist attractions had been highlighted such as Giam Klimau Waterfall, Bakam Waterfall, Hawaii Beach, and Tekiwit Waterfall, offering options to locals seeking a short getaway.

Photos of Giam Klimau Waterfall, about 150km or about two hours from Miri City, in Batu Niah, have been posted on social media by visitors, resulting in its soaring popularity. The same goes for the other touristy landmarks.

According to tour guide Wilson Chiam, during the period of economic recovery, the number of visitors from Peninsular Malaysia could be lower.

The entrance of a cavern at the Niah National Park. — Photo by Rick Wong

He noted that local visitors had different needs and it was important to identify them.

“For instance, while the service of tour guides may not be needed here compared to the situation of tourists from peninsular Malaysia and foreign countries, still, it was important to look for business opportunities.”

The seasoned tour and certified national park guide is looking at agro-tourism as a possible future prospect for Miri.

“There’re animal and fruit farms in Miri that could use some development. By upgrading the infrastructure and facilities, they could cater to a niche market of family groups and nature-loving visitors,” he added.


Exploring Sarawak’s beauty

Avid ultra-marathon runner Chu Chee Ning said the beauty of Sarawak needed to be explored, adding that it was always possible to make an unexpected discovery.

“A friend and I share an interest in long-haul driving, often travelling between Kuching and Miri. When we have the time, we make it a point to pass through places like Oya, Mukah, Beringin, and Tanjung Manis.

“Some of the tourism-related discoveries we made in these areas were rather novel, yet incredible as they were not something we expected,” said the co-founder of Miri Ultra-Marathon Happy Feet Club.

Chu not only runs along jungle paths and treks up hills and mountains but also enjoys visiting some of the beautiful waterfalls and often shares her outings on Facebook.

She strongly supports domestic tourism, saying it’s a good way for Sarawakians to take a close look at the beautiful places around them.

“The beautiful areas of foreign countries are constantly exposed by their tourism agencies. Without you realising it, they have become ‘must-go’ destinations because of this marketing strategy.

“I do believe our own place has its unique beauty. You just have to look for it at unlikely places. Don’t be surprised by what you can find.

“Generally, the places we often hear about may look similar – that’s because we share the same climate but I have been frequently proven wrong after exploring them.

“The purpose of travelling can vary but domestic tourism is more like a self-discovery adventure to understand your own country.”

Chu said the mud volcano site in Bekenu and Baram Delta province had a long history which extols, in particular, its pioneering role in oil and gas discovery in 1910.

“It’s worth a visit too,” she added.


Scuba diving

Underwater diving appears to be a ‘new thing’ even to Mirians, according to Jimmy Yong, an avid diver and manager of CoCo Dive Miri.

The pristine coral reefs of Miri are a diving attraction. — Photo by Jimmy Yong

In recent years, diving has become quite popular in Miri, attracting enthusiasts from Singapore, China and peninsular Malaysia for open water diving in the surrounding seas.

“Most locals are surprised if you tell them Miri is a diving spot. Their lack of interest could be due to the colour of the seawater and Miri having no offshore islands.

“The typical perception is that the sea in Miri is murky. This has nothing to do with the amount of human pollution but mostly the physical structures of the coastal line.

“There are certain days during the year when the water is sparkling blue, a refreshing change from the usual dull colour. However, because of the high tide, strong waves swashing the coastline will quickly change the colour back to murky,” Yong explained.

According to him, scuba diving spots are usually associated with islands.

“The Miri diving spot is not your typical diving spot. For open water diving, it has a fair share of excitement – and challenges.

“Some love an adventurous experience, others may find it a bit chancy because other than the underwater reefs, there are no shelters such as islands to let divers rest ashore.

“However, for most divers who have experienced diving here, they will come back for more.”

Site of the mud volcano in Bekenu. – Photo by Miri Community Group

The nearest diving spot – Eve’s Garden – is less than five nautical miles from the Miri shoreline which is part of Miri-Sibuti Coral Reeds National Park. Other sites are  Anemone Garden, Belais Reef, Tukau Drop-Off, Santak Point, Siwa Reef, Barracuda Point, Kenyalang Artificial Reef, and Sri Gadong Wreck.

Yong revealed that to date, his team had explored over 20 diving spots with remarkable underwater views, pristine coral reefs and marine life.

He noted that apart from recreational divers, Miri’s diving sites are frequented by marine biologists from local universities, conducting research and exploration, and also double as a training ground for technical diving.

“In the last couple of years, a local not-for-profit diving group, Future Ocean Borneo, had hunted for ghost-nets to help clear abandoned fishing nets entangled on the coral reefs.

“So from there, we realised education on ocean preservation and awareness is vitally important for future generations to continue enjoying the myriad beautiful marine life.”

“Marine ecology will be part of the diving courses offered in Miri. I feel confident they are taking the right step in environmental conservation.”

Yong said although diving tourism caters mostly to a niche market, it marked a good start to Miri getting recognised globally for its beautiful coral reefs and marine life.


Proper planning needed

Chiam said new landmarks such as Giam Klimau Waterfall needed proper infrastructural development to ensure the safety of visitors.

“The waterfall is surrounded by oil palm plantations. The water flows vigorously after heavy rain. As the waterfall is the main attraction, most visitors usually look forward to enjoying the cascading waters and at times, could overlook the safety aspect.  The infrastructure development there should be similar to that of other tourist spots – geared towards ensuring safety.”

Meanwhile, Chu who spotted rubbish around Giam Klimau, said the dumping of used plastic water bottles and other discards was a “sad sign” of callous disregard for environmental cleanliness.

“In fact, for a historical place like Canada Hill which has now become a popular trekking site for Mirians, the stench of waste should be the last thing you would expect to find there.

“The cause is the lack of basic amenities like toilets and rubbish bins. Without proper sanitation and rubbish disposal, bacteria and worse, virus, can spread and pose a health hazard.”

Chu said the provision of proper infrastructural facilities was important not only for the environment but also public safety.