Sarawak to focus on domestic tourism

Abdul Karim (fourth left) and others giving the thumbs up after the dialogue session. Photo: Ramidi Subari

KUCHING: Sarawak will focus on its domestic market and tourist arrivals from Brunei and Singapore to help its tourism industry recover, said Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

He said the state’s tourism industry was badly affected by Covid-19 and the way forward for the industry depended a lot on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the government.

“We do not have much restriction on interstate and intrastate travel among Malaysians but we are still closing our borders to foreign visitors so we might not have foreign tourist arrivals for the next six months.

“If things improve, the wait might be less than six months. In the meantime, we will focus more on domestic tourism as well as our two neighbouring countries, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore.

“Once Indonesia gets better, we will also open our border to it. Indonesia is also contributing to us in terms of medical tourism,” Abdul Karim told a press conference after attending a post Covid-19 dialogue session with the state’s tourism industry players at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) yesterday.

On June 19, Malaysia agreed in principle to allow Singaporeans and Bruneians to enter the country’s borders without having to apply for approval from the Malaysian Immigration Department or to undergo Covid-19 screening or home quarantine.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said, however, this was on condition that Malaysians were accorded the same privileges by the Singapore and Brunei governments.

He said Wisma Putra was currently discussing the matter with Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, and that Malaysia’s decision to relax restrictions depended on the outcome of the discussion.

In another development, Abdul Karim pointed out that Sarawak recorded visitor arrivals of 4.66 million in 2019, an increase of 5.22 percent compared to 2018.

He said in 2018, the state’s tourism industry generated revenue of RM11 billion or 8.72 percent share of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Abdul Karim added the state hoped to reach a target of five million visitor arrivals this year but the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic at the end of January badly affected the tourism sector.  

“In January, there was an encouraging increase of 16.9 percent of visitor arrivals in the state compared to January 2019.

“However, the number from February to May this year registered a decline of 48.21 percent compared to the same corresponding period in 2019,” he added.

A report from Bernama stated that due to the pandemic, the state is projecting to receive only two million tourists this year.

Among those present at the dialogue session were Tourism, Arts and Culture Assistant Minister Datuk Sebastian Ting, the ministry’s permanent secretary Hii Chang Kee, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chairman Datuk Abdul Wahab Aziz, STB chief executive officer (CEO) Sharzede Salleh Askor, Ministry of Tourism Sarawak director Suria Charles Buas, Tourism Malaysia Sarawak director Bahruddin Sulaiman, and Business Events Sarawak (BESarawak) acting CEO Amelia Roziman.