During the Asean Travel Forum in Kuching last week, Sarawak Minister of Tourism Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari answered to Traveldailynews.asia about the way Sarawak is protecting its tourism assets as well as cooperation with other regional partners in Borneo. In the first ten months of 2013, the State of Sarawak welcomed 3.48 million travellers, including 2.13 million foreign visitors. This represented a growth of 6.4% over January-October 2012.
TravelDailyNews : Are you satisfied with Kuching hosting the ASEAN Travel Forum?
Amar Abang Johari : I must say that this show has been a great success as it helped us to showcase a “new” destination for many travel professionals. We are very pleased with the feedback from participants who discovered during the ASEAN Travel Forum that our country is not only limited to Peninsular Malaysia. We are then very thankful to the Federal Government to give us the opportunity to showcase ourselves to the world travel community.
TDN : What are the next targets for tourism marketing in Sarawak?
Amar Abang Johari : We continue over all to stress out our beautiful and prestine nature with its unique flora and fauna. Our national parks are a wonderful asset and they are easily accessible. The closest is just 30 minutes away from Kuching city centre and visitors have enjoyed there to see orang utan. Of course, Mulu caves, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a major asset for our tourism and is accessible from Miri or Limbang. We would think that we could link this UNESCO natural world heritage site with other UNESCO sites within the ASEAN. We already initiated discussions with Cambodia to see if we could have a joint product linking Mulu and Angkor Wat. Nature versus Culture… Another important development is to empower more our rural communities into tourism. Especially through homestays, that we support through financial incentives and grants.
TDN : Sarawak seems to go alone when doing promotion. Do you look at common projects with the rest of Borneo Island?
Amar Abang Johari : We work a lot within the BIMP-EAGA framework which includes regions of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, and particularly on Borneo Island. We just signed during the ATF a cooperation agreement with Brunei which encourage travels through packages between Miri and Brunei and then extend it further to Kuching. We want to encourage individuals and this is why we develop new road infrastructures providing more freedom of travel to visitors. We are also working into a visa pilot scheme valid for both Sarawak and Brunei. As we move towards the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015, we would like also to develop new partnerships with Kalimantan provinces in Indonesia. However, we need to find a satisfying compromise to have a common direction with Brunei and Indonesia to be sure that we can offer a seemless unique Borneo product.
TDN : Many historical structures in Kuching seems to be designated to demolition. How do you protect historical heritage structures today?
Amar Abang Johari : Sarawak has a duty to preserve its heritage from the past. We are embarked into an ambitious project of creating a heritage square around the old courts, Padang Merdeka up to the Museum of Sarawak and Fort Marguerita on the other side of Sarawak River. All the historical buildings there will be gazetted and protected. We will then create a heritage walkway linking both sides along the Sarawak River, especially following the achievement of a pedestrian bridge. It is due to completion by 2015.
Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.