State Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah recently disclosed that a new hydrogen fuel bus will be used to provide free service in Kuching from next year.
But details of its operations have yet to be worked out and there are fears that local commuters could crowd out bona fide domestic tourists or foreign visitors.
Or it could turn out to be a white elephant as there are already many but empty tourist buses in the relatively small city.
The majority of visitors to Sarawak are drawn by its natural attractions. The state alone is home to 42 national parks, of which 13 are open to visitors.
Many visitors merely use Kuching for entering or exiting the state, as the city is not known as a great tourist destination. Most tour companies do not operate daily sightseeing tours around the city.
Last July, I visited Kuching for the first time to participate in the Sarawak Tourism Workshop and could see the full potential of the city as a tourist attraction had remained untapped.
I had the advantage of seeing Kuching as a first-time visitor, with a fresh pair of eyes but I would be quite blind in KL. where I have lived for half a century, as all I could see is familiarity with nothing special.
As such, a great and meaningful tour of Kuching could only be developed by roping in outsiders to work with local experts.
For example, the many signboards using Chinese characters are a rarity and new ones are not allowed in almost all cities and towns in Peninsular Malaysia. Seeing so many in Kuching is like travelling back in time, more so with many old shophouses in good condition.
The old buildings in the city are the real treasure trove. Every surviving traditional business, such as those along Carpenter Street and Jalan Padungan, has a great story to tell.
Tourists would be more interested in these products if they learn about the people behind them.
Sharing with their descendants would be close to reliving history, and such engagements make experiential tourism more meaningful and may even form long-lasting friendships between visitors and locals.
Normal sightseeing and taking photos or videos were a must for tourists previously but with Google Earth or Street View, one can have a good view of anywhere in the world using a computer.
Therefore, for those taking the trouble to travel to a destination, they want to engage meaningfully with the locals or might as well stay home.
Seasoned travellers would be wary of free sightseeing tours, as many are shopping tours in disguise. Those falling for it would be pressured to buy things they do not need or want.
But if operated by the government and closely monitored it would enhance visitors’ stay in Kuching, as few people would have a chance to ride in a state-of-the-art bus powered by clean hydrogen fuel.
This fact alone would attract many environmentally conscientious European tourists to Sarawak, as they would feel great after the sightseeing tour for having done their part in lessening pollution.