| Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Kuching: Sarawak tourism promotion agencies and tour-related companies are set to capitalise on the resurgence of tourism to draw more Singaporean tourists to Sarawak. The initiative has gained momentum following the launch of a range of all-inclusive tours known as “Sarawak Integrated Packages (SIP)” by Sarawak’s top tourism representatives including Deputy Chief Minister and Tourism and Heritage Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam in Singapore last October.

The SIP campaign, which aims to double tourist arrivals to Sarawak will attract Singaporeans and foreigners in Singapore to Sarawak by way of improved air connectivity with direct flights to Kuching operated by Malaysia Airlines, Silk Air, Air Asia and Tiger Airways. Malaysia Airlines also introduced direct Singapore-Miri flights in October last year.

Singaporewith its large expatriate community had become an attractive and potential market for the tourism industry of the Land of the Hornbill. Apart from Singapore, other potential markets for the SIP are Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China, in particular Shen Zhen. Sarawak has already invested RM1 million for promotions to Singapore’s local and expatriate market.

Deputy Chief Minister of Tourism and Heritage, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chansaid, “The SIP packages will be very appealing due to their flexibility in meeting the demand of different tourists and we will review them continually to ensure they stay that way. It is very surprising that not many Singaporeans have gone to Sarawak given the wealth of options it offers for a fulfilling vacation and its proximity to Singapore, perhaps in part due to the lack of advertising and promotion by Singapore travel agents. Through a well-coordinated effort via state and tourism industry affiliates we could compel a substantial number of Singapore tourists to Sarawak within a year or two”.

Datuk Ik Pahon Joyik, the permanent secretary to Tourism and Heritage Ministry, added, The SIP would be modified according to customers’ and travel agents’ feedback so that Sarawak continues to be a “fresh” top-of-mind and preferred tourism destination. The feedback from travel agents from both Singapore and Sarawak is crucial to us because they are the ones who sell the packages and we aim to ensure that the consumer at large will also become familiar with the varied product offerings Sarawak provides”.

Sarawak TourismBoard (STB) chief executive officer Datuk Rashid Khan said, “More than ever we recognize the need to look at our neighbouring countries to see how we can draw them in. In this current economic recovery stage, more tourists are looking at places near their homes. Therefore, it is very natural for us to focus on Singapore as one of the high-income economies in the region.

“In the past, the travel operators were made aware of Sarawak tourism product experiences such as soft adventures, culture, active outdoor, resorts and spa, but consumers were largely not exposed to them. The SIP offers creative packages and is a signal to all tourism stakeholders that Sarawak is seriously investing in a vibrant, profitable and sustainable future of the tourism industry”, he continued.

The SIP will run for eight months until June 2011 and consists of 38 different packages ranging from daily tour to six-day-five-night package to cater to the needs of different groups of tourists.

A total of 36 travel agents have been identified to be featured as fulfillment travel agents to process enquiries, bookings and payment for these integrated tour packages while nine Sarawak suppliers were involved in this initiative.

One of the highlights of SIP is to provide varied and exciting product experiences for tourists, including festivals such as the Rainforest World Musical Festival, Miri Jazz Festival and Borneo Cultural Festival.

Datuk Rashid added, “The product experience will cut across all target groups, from soft adventurers, active sports adventurers to tourists who prefer cultural experiences. Apart from that, we are also targeting students where special packages focusing on field trips are offered although Sarawak will not promote mass tourism because of the impact on the environment and we believe in sustainability.

“Under our new consumer-driven strategy, we will collaborate with tourism stakeholders to bundle essential services such as transfers, accommodation, meals, tours and airfares into integrated packages”, he continued.

With the SIP programme, STB hopes to attract 62,000 tourist arrivals from Singapore and an estimated RM124.8 million in tourist receipts. In 2009, Sarawak recorded only 50,243 tourist arrivals from Singapore despite 9 million Singapore tourists visiting Malaysia the same year. Up to October 2010 however, it had already registered some 31,533 Singapore visitors.