By Ashley Sim
KUCHING, Oct 6: Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) has officially launched the Kuching Umrah Gateway (KUG) initiative today, which will provide direct flights to Jeddah and Medina in Southeast Asia.
The KUG initiative is a collaborative effort between STB and ATS Global Travel and Charter Sdn Bhd (ATS) to establish flight connectivity between the Middle East and Sarawak.
The initiative aims to boost Sarawak’s tourism industry by expanding into new markets and positioning Kuching as a stopover point for Umrah pilgrims from nearby countries such as Kalimantan, Brunei, and the Southern Philippines, which have a total Muslim population of over 30 million.
STB and ATS signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which was witnessed by the Minister for Tourism, Creative Industry, and Performing Arts (MTCP) Sarawak Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, MTCP Sarawak permanent secretary Hii Chang Kee, and ATS chairman Dato A Aziz Ahmad.
“Kuching is strategically located as an Umrah hub for visitors from Sarawak, Sabah, Labuan, and ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and the Philippines.
“We are confident that Kuching becoming an Umrah Hub will boost Sarawak’s tourism economy by creating more job opportunities, increasing tourist spending, and benefiting the restaurant and retail sectors.
“This initiative would also benefit hotels, homestays, travel agents, airlines, and other passenger transportation services,” Abdul Karim stated today in his speech at the MOA Signing Ceremony between STB and ATS, which was held at a hotel here.
With over 230,000 visitor arrivals projected through KUG over the next six years, he believes that the Malaysia Airports Berhad (MAB) should look into expanding the Kuching International Airport (KIA) to meet the growing demand for visitor traffic.
Meanwhile, STB chairman Dennis Ngau highlighted in his speech that the new KUG initiative is especially important for the tourism industry, which is expected to be a major economic driver in Sarawak by 2035, contributing 11 per cent of the State’s GDP with RM50 billion in tourism receipts.
Furthermore, A Aziz mentioned in a press release that ATS is pleased to support the Sarawak government’s vision of transforming Kuching into an Umrah gateway hub that will attract more visitor arrivals to Sarawak.
“Sarawak has a lot of potential new tourism products to showcase to the world, which is eager to travel and looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations in Southeast Asia to explore,” he said.
The special charter flight is expected to begin in December, and ATS will arrange feeder flights from Pontianak, Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Samarinda, Ujung Padang (Makassar), Jakarta, and Mindanao to support the Umrah flight carriers’ main line operations.
Visitors under the KUG initiative will also be able to enjoy a variety of pre and post-Umrah tour packages that have been specially curated to cater to the new passengers’ interests and needs.
The pre or post tours will be together with the Umrah flights and will be made available via a dedicated platform on www.kug.travel.
Also present were A Aziz, STB chief executive officer (CEO) Sharzede Salleh Askor, ATS executive director Mohd Shahrom Mabol, and ATS director Mohd Hafiz Mohd Zaki. — DayakDaily