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By Nancy Nais
MULU, Nov 14: After almost two years cooped up at home, throngs of Sarawakians or other Malaysians living in the State are crossing district lines in a beeline for local tourist destinations such as Mulu.
Before the devastating Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, international travellers accounted for the majority of visitors to Sarawak’s iconic Unesco World Heritage site Gunung Mulu National Park.
Now, in the post-Covid-19 period and with the reopening of interstate and inter-district travel nationwide, the site is expected to experience an influx of visitors following the lifting of restrictions.
Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa resort manager Benjamin Wolff sees this as a reason for optimism for the tourism players here, including the resort, the national park, rangers, tourist guides, boatmen and homestay operators.
“The pandemic was obviously very hard for Mulu, not just for the resort, but the entire community. Everything here is interlinked with each other, including the airline MASwings which carries our visitors to and fro.
“For us in Mulu Marriott, there was no opportunity for any type of income revenue at all. Not even isolation or quarantine business, takeaway food, deliveries etc unlike hotels in other districts or cities.
“Here, we are a very small rural community. The movement control order (MCO) or lockdown was implemented last year March, and again in May this year. Therefore it was an extremely agonising period for us,” Wolff told reporters during a media familiarisation trip organised by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) in collaboration with MASwings, Gunung Mulu National Park and Mulu Marriott.
When the Malaysian government announced the lifting of the MCO and interdistrict travel was allowed to resume, this was greatly welcomed by all in Mulu and marked the beginning of an unexpected turnaround.
“During pre-Covid, our visitors were mainly international tourists who made up 80 per cent and the remaining 20 per cent were Malaysians whom mostly came from West Malaysia.
“We don’t get many Sarawakians coming to Mulu, which is quite a sad fact. However, for the first time ever in our resort history, 99 per cent of reservations received were from those living in Sarawak for November. This was a big change and surprise,” Wolff said.
Looking at the positives, he believed that perhaps it is a good sign because the pandemic has made Sarawakians choose to discover the hidden gems in their own State, and Mulu Marriott’s guest reservations for the month of November and December has improved tremendously.
Mulu, Wolff noted, is one of Malaysia’s only four Unesco World Heritage sites, renowned for its most remarkable untouched rainforests and largest natural cave formations in the world.
“They are now visiting their own heritage sites and proud of what they have here. It will make a big difference and their perception towards this place. Many of them, despite being Sarawakians, have never been to Mulu. So we truly welcome all of you and other Malaysians as well.
“We hope that our visitors have trust in us that we comply to all the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other precautions, including our counterparts from the national park,” he added.
Connection is deem as extremely important for Mulu, because there is no road access.
The resort and the park can be accessed by air through Mulu airport or by boat from Marudi through the Tutoh and Baram rivers.
Thus, when regional airline MASwings announced that it was increasing its number of flights to Mulu from 13 to 26 times weekly direct from Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu effective Dec 1, it was very much welcomed by all in Mulu.
Thanking MASwings which operates rural air services in East Malaysia for the consideration, Benjamin said this will give more flexibility for visitors to visit Mulu, while it will be much more attractive for travel agents to sell as well.
“Moving forward, we look ahead with a positive mindset for the industry to rebound following the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and that this momentum will continue.
“We also hoped to have more interstate travelers followed by international tourists, although for the latter, it is hard to say for now,” Benjamin said.
Meanwhile, the newly enhanced resort was creatively built in style based on the alignment of ethnic longhouses.
Groups of rooms are connected by wooden walkways to allow guests to feel as much a part of the rainforest as the native Berawan people.
Not only that, the resort is further complemented by the breathtaking natural splendour along the banks of Melinau river.
The resort offers elegant and spacious rooms and suites with private balconies, with scenic views of the river and rainforest.
Coupled with state-of-the-art facilities and services, these rooms provide an elevated standard of design and decor that reflects comfort and refinement.
With more than 1,000 sqm of function and meeting space including a pillar-less ballroom that can accommodate up to 200 people, Mulu Marriott is also an ideal choice for meetings, conferences and other events.
Apart from a diversity of culinary delights at any of its two restaurants, the resort also features a range of wellness options including an outdoor 15-metre lap swimming pool, gym and spa.
While Mulu Marriott sits in a deep remote tropical rainforest, Internet access is available via WiFi. — DayakDaily