By Karen Bong
KUCHING, Jan 1: Sarawak is aggressively pursuing its goal to establish the state as the umrah hub of Borneo by this year to serve Muslim travellers in the region.
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah pointed out that there had been positive feedback following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) two days ago that paved the way for turning Kuching into an alternative travelling hub for umrah pilgrims in the region.
“I notice the economy of the local population, especially the Muslims, have improved significantly where they would want to go to umrah every year.
“We want to establish Sarawak as the umrah hub as this will encourage more airlines to come in as well as give our neighbour from Indonesia to use Kuching as the alternative gateway to Jeddah and Madinah,” he said.
Abdul Karim highlighted this at a press conference after welcoming visitors and tourists to Sarawak on the first day of the new year at Kuching International Airport (KIA) here today, kicking off the Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020) Campaign.
The initiative by Tourism Malaysia was held concurrently at 22 entry points throughout the country today.
As Sarawak continues to set its five million tourist arrivals target for this year, Abdul Karim emphasised that efforts were ongoing to establish connectivity to Sarawak which is still the biggest problem faced by the state.
“But hopefully, we will be seeing quite a number of new connectivity within the first quarter of this year as we have secured some MoUs in the last few days and there will be some more coming up. You will be seeing new sectors coming in including from Hainan and Haikou of China,” he said.
From January to November 2019, Sarawak recorded 4.18 million tourist arrivals and December saw a significant increase in tourists coming as Abdul Karim believed the state could probably hit the 4.5 to 4.6 million mark.
Other efforts to lure tourists and visitors into Sarawak included organising more events from arts, music, conferences to sports as well as improving local tourism products.
“The Spartan race last year drew some 3,000 participants including tourists and out of the number of participants, 65 per cent were foreigners.
“Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and the ministry is working closely with councils and Resident Offices to ensure this as most of our tourism products are looked after by these agencies,” he said.
He hopes 2020 will be a very good year for Sarawak and Malaysia as a whole in terms of tourism to welcome more tourists and visitors, especially quality ones, who will appreciate what the state and country has to offer.
“Every tourist who comes in will mean more money to be spent and poured into the economy, from hotel to souvenirs.
“My ministry will also come up with good packages and promotions to lure more tourists into the country,” he assured.
Meanwhile, Malaysia is targeting 30 million tourist arrivals which is estimated to bring in RM100 billion in tourist receipts if the target is achieved for 2020.
When asked about Sarawak’s potential in offering luxury tourism considering many five stars hotels are coming up, Abdul Karim said Sarawak could reach that level in many years down the road.
“However, we will continue to sell and promote Sarawak as a land for beauty, heritage, culture, nature and adventure instead of for shopping.
“Lots of city people including Singaporeans would want to escape the cosmopolitan city. Whether rich or not, urban travellers want to go back to the nature,” he emphasised.
The ministry’s permanent secretary Hii Chang Kee, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer (CEO) Sharzede Salleh Askor and Tourism Malaysia Sarawak director Bahruddin Sulaiman were present. —DayakDaily