By Geryl Ogilvy
KUCHING, April 3: The Sarawak government plans to transform Niah Caves into one of the leading tourist attractions in the region.
Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said his ministry was in the midst of preparing a Cabinet Paper on the cost to upgrade and build facilities at Niah Caves to increase its tourism appeal and attract more visitors worldwide.
He expected the paper to be ready within the next two months and hoped the project could start at the end of the year.
“The Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) has instructed the ministry to come up with a proposal to develop Niah Caves into a big tourist attraction. We are preparing the paper to be presented to the State Cabinet.
“The paper will detail proposed infrastructures and amenities that will be built in Niah Caves, including trails and bridges to explore the caves network,” he told a press conference after chairing the state Tourism steering committee meeting here today.
Abdul Karim gave assurance that the trails would not disrupt the surrounding ecosystem. In addition to river jetties at the Niah National Park to transport visitors to Niah Caves by boats, buggy trails would also be set up for the convenience of those wanting to explore the park by land.
He also mentioned that a recent finding by researchers from New South Wales (NSW), Australia, revealed that human habitation in Niah Caves dated back 65,000 years ago.
The new finding has eclipsed previous studies, which concluded that humans had inhabited the caves as far as 40,000 years.
“The NSW researchers will also present their findings to the Chief Minister. This should trigger a lot of interest to Niah Caves when it comes to tourism,” Abdul Karim said.
The state is hoping to get its famous Niah Caves to be listed as a Unesco world heritage site within the next five years. The government is also in the midst of getting back the human skeletal remains excavated at Niah Caves by scientists from the United States, which have been taken to a university in Nevada for research.
On other tourism matters, Abdul Karim said the state, apart from promoting ecotourism, national parks, local arts and cultures, expressed hope that the business community would look into setting up a Premium Outlet in Sarawak to create a shopping haven for visitors.
This could also diversify the tourism attraction the state has to offer, he added.
The state government would continue to improve air connectivity and actively engaging with several local and foreign airlines to increase direct flights to destinations in Sarawak, with China remaining an important market.
“Apart from promoting Sarawak to the world, we must also study the outbound tourists from the state to see their preferences, interest and niche market, as we look to create more direct flights.
“It has to be a win-win situation for both Sarawak and our foreign market destinations while ensuring economic viability for the airlines,” Abdul Karim said.
On Thursday, the minister will lead an entourage to meet with federal Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Mohammadin Ketapi in Putrajaya to discuss issues and funding to develop the state’s tourism sector.
Abdul Karim said the tourism industry contributed RM7.95 billion to the state Gross Domestic Products (GDP) last year. Sarawak has also received RM2.58 million in tourism tax from the federal government for the year 2017 and 2018. — DayakDaily