It’s a big world out there, it would be a shame not to experience it. – Asha, Toronto-based travel blogger and editor

The Covid-19 virus pandemic has harmed virtually all sectors of our industry.

One such promising, upcoming and crucial industry to Sarawak and its people is tourism.

The government and private sector in Sarawak have over the years invested a significant amount of time, effort and money to make Sarawak a preferred tourist destination, especially for international tourists.

All the visionary planning and execution came to a grinding halt with the declaration of the movement control order due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This includes the ‘Sarawak, more to discover’ campaign to woo more tourists and place Sarawak on the world tourist map.

The main purpose of tourism, of course, is to generate money for Sarawakians.

The inbound tourism sector was basically shut down during the MCO and till today is under tight control to ensure the safety of Sarawakians.

There were hopes of a gradual tourist revival when the RMCO started.

However, due to the latest flare-up of the Covid-19 virus, the inbound segment of tourism is out of the question again for now.

In 2019 from April to September 2019, there were 2,249,079 visitor arrivals with 1,065,191 being foreigners in these six months.

This April to September 2020 there has been 37,978 visitor arrivals and only 17,609 of them being foreigners in the same period.

This is a huge drop of 1,047,582 foreign arrivals in the same period of six months between 2019 and 2020.

In a recent interview with the New Sarawak Tribune, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Sharzede Salleh Askor stated that the value of tourism receipts from January to September in 2020 had dropped to RM2.78 billion in comparison to RM8.67 billion for the same period in 2019.

This is a whopping RM5.89 billion or 68 percent decline. 

So, what is being done to mitigate the unfortunate situation? Well, domestic tourism for one. Its importance is only now coming to the forefront.

This will create new opportunities to generate a more varied and also economically sustainable tourism industry in the long term.

According to Tourism Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, the ‘Sia Sitok’ campaign launched in August is successful and is to last until the end of the year with up to 50 percent discounts.

The use of technology has also helped. The timely launch of the Sarawak Travel App and Web Portal last February is the way forward and must be emulated by all in the private sectors.

Do visit the Sarawak tourism website or the details.

Tourism, Art and Culture Assistant Minister Datuk Sebastian Ting has also been actively promoting the new post-Covid-19 campaign with the tagline ‘Rediscover Yourself in Sarawak’.

Miri City Mayor Adam Yii has also actively been promoting local tourism. He has always placed great emphasis on tourism via Miri City Council’s very active Tourism Development Standing Committee.

If we look hard enough, we can find many local areas of interest — Ting and Yii, who together with various local enthusiasts, have been rediscovering some potential historical spots.

Representatives from Sarawak Museum have also been visiting some of these sites to assist in verification to ensure that the correct information is compiled to facilitate the process.

It is also important that we preserve many of our historical sites and indeed create new ones for the future.

In the rush for modernisation, we tend to sacrifice many sites and buildings only to lament their loss later.

In this context, I am sure many are appreciative of the efforts of Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin to lobby to keep our old Miri Resident and District Office as a future heritage museum. It has a long history and over the years served as a post office and court in years gone by.

We, too, as individuals can become agents of change and ‘talk up’ all the places of interest we have in our respective areas.

There will come a time when, like it or not, we will have to learn how to live with the Covid-19 virus — with or without the vaccine.

Therefore, this the best time for both the government and private sector to implement all necessary plans and improvements to our tourism sector.

That way once the world moves towards opening up their borders and lifting most of the travel restriction, Sarawak would be well-placed to get off to a running start.

In the meantime, let us all take the opportunity and kesana kesini (travel here and there) to the many interesting places and learn about the communities and cultures in our own backyard.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.