Sarawak enjoys growth in tourist arrivals


It is not all gloom and doom in Asia. On August 1, Chief Minister of the Malaysian State of Sarawak, Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, revealed that tourist arrivals to the State increased by 10 percent, representing an additional 85,000 visitors during the first three months of 2009. Taib Mahmud expressed his confidence that this positive growth would continue until year end.

Sarawak could get a major boost with many developments taking place in the State capital Kuching. A new international convention center, the first of its kind on Borneo island, will open by the end of the year with many new hotels coming up in the capital. In April, the local government also announced Kuching bidding to enter the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list. Kuching is still in its early stage to look for such status, but when conferred, it would be a strong attractive asset for international travelers.

The Chief Minister, in revealing this, is convinced that the positive trend would continue until the end of this year. This good performance is to be attributed to a surge of air seats now available. In less than a year’s time, an Open Sky agreement between Singapore and Malaysia translated into the addition of over 4,000 weekly seats from and to Singapore, bringing total seat capacity to 7,000 seats. Served only by Malaysia Airlines and Silk Air, the Kuching-Singapore route is also served now by Jetstar Asia, Tiger Air, and AirAsia. The latter just inaugurated three weekly frequencies from Miri to Singapore. So far, Singapore arrivals have grown by 25 percent since the start of the year. AirAsia is also serving Jakarta and Macau from Kuching.

Growth in capacity is followed by an increase in accommodation capacity. The opening of the new Borneo Convention Centre Kuching next October has stimulated investments in the hotel sector – new properties include the recently-opened Four Points by Sheraton with 421 rooms and the Pullman Interhill with 389 rooms, due to open in October at the same time as a brand new shopping mall. A new boutique hotel, the Lime Tree, opened in the heart of the city, offering 50 rooms. Tune Hotels, a sister company of AirAsia, has also been present since the beginning of the year with a 135-room property. Another four- to five-star hotel is planned for opening by 2011.

In 2008, Sarawak recorded 3.6 million tourist arrivals, down by 5.3 percent over 2007. However, the Sarawak Tourism Board expects to welcome four million travelers until 2012.