Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tourism industry still not achieving its full potential in Sarawak

IT’S no secret. Sarawak’s tourism industry lags behind Sabah’s.

In fact, we should be ashamed our jewel in the crown, Mulu, is nowhere near as popular as Mount Kinabalu.

(And the less said about Sarawak’s sea, surf and sand offerings the better.)

Sure, Sarawakians can lay claim to two successful music festivals. Each is celebrated over two weekends, one in May and the other in July.

What about the other months? Yes, locals might be able to name a few more events worth taking time-off for, but more importantly, can tourists?

The Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF), an umbrella body representing guides to agents, had said last year’s drop in foreign arrivals hit the local industry hard.

Its president Audry Wan Ullok, who might look demure but can be vocal when necessary, has called on authorities to do more.

As the private sector’s representative, Audry has a long list of complaints and proposals.

At the same time, government leaders insist local businesses lack innovation and drive.

Last year, one deputy minister, upon being handed a stack of brochures, promptly said: “How do you expect me to promote these? Some are photocopies!”

So what gives? One side blames the other, and as a result, there has been little forward momentum.

This year, the State Government’s aim is to have four million tourist arrivals.

It is a nice sounding figure, except the private sector has little faith in such projections and on past statistics.

Between tomorrow and Friday, top tourism leaders are meeting in Kuching. It will be the most comprehensive public-private discussion yet on tourism this year.

Given the industry’s woeful track record in 2010, Star Sarawak has learnt that top of the agenda is flight connectivity.

The private sector will urge authorities to lower airport taxes. People like Audry will tell the government that the private sector cares only about tourist arrivals.

She will reiterate that the federation cared little about how various programmes or proposals would be implemented, or where funds would come from.

Either the Federal Transport Ministry lowers airport tax, or the Tourism and Heritage Ministry subsidises low-cost airlines.

The fact was that tourism in the region depended heavily on cheap travel, Audry said, echoing AirAsia Group chief executive Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes’ recent comments.

The State Government will have a difficult task ahead. First, it must be seen to try to lobby the Federal Government to lower airport tax.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Tourism industry still not achieving its full potential in Sarawak

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