Friday, July 1, 2022

Sarawak tourism players hopeful of recovery as international music festival rallies visitors

Hotel occupancy in the state is estimated at 35% to 40%, compared to 10% to 15% during the pandemic.

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Tourism players in Sarawak are optimistic of their footing on the road to recovery, as the number of travellers continues to pick up amid the country’s transition towards the endemic phase of Covid-19 and on the back of a strong response to one of Malaysia’s biggest music festivals after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Malaysia Association of Hotels Sarawak chairman John Teo said tourism and hospitality operators had already seen a pick-up in the number of domestic visitors ahead of the Rainforest World Music Festival to be held in Kuching this week.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said the reopening of Malaysia’s international borders had enabled the hotel industry to navigate its way towards recovery.

“Hotel occupancy is now at an average of 35% to 40%, compared to the 10% to 15% that we saw during the pandemic,” he said.

“Apart from Sarawakians themselves, we have had visitors from West Malaysia as well as from Singapore.”

Teo said the return of the Rainforest World Music Festival, albeit in hybrid form, had given an additional boost to tourism figures in the state.

However, he acknowledged the absence of international tourists, especially from China which is still observing a strict “zero Covid” response to the pandemic.

“This year, we are short of foreign tourists,” he said. “The main constraint is the fact that their countries have yet to reopen much of their borders.”

In addition to tourists from China, Teo said, Sarawak was also missing visitors from across the border in Brunei.

“We expect occupancy to be much better if the Brunei border reopens,” he said. “But the Brunei government has extended restrictions to Aug 1.”

Reservations ahead of the music festival slated to take place from June 17 to 19 have been mostly by Sarawakians, especially from Miri, Bintulu and Sibu apart from Kuching itself.

Still, the state tourism board said, the numbers for this were encouraging.

The Sarawak Cultural Village stands ready to receive visitors ahead of the Rainforest World Music Festival to be held in Kuching this week.

CEO Sharzede Salleh Askor said more than 7,000 tickets had been sold so far, with more sales expected in the days to come.

“We look forward to seeing a positive number of door sales during the festival itself,” she said.

“Our maximum capacity per day is 4,000 due to the SOPs. So we are targeting attendance by 12,000 people at the physical festival.”

This is still far short of the 23,650 visitors the festival had attracted before the Covid-19 pandemic. But industry players are taking what they can get.

“There may be fewer visitors attending the event this year due to travel restrictions and lingering concerns about attending major events,” Mona Manap, a consultant for the festival, said.

“We may not get the same numbers, but we will be pioneers – the first state to hold a hybrid international music festival.”

In any event, Mona added, the organisers expect more local visitors to attend the festival despite the drop in international tourists.

Sarawak Cultural Village general manager Jane Lian Labang said preparations are underway, and online sales are increasing by the day.

She, too, expects a last-minute surge in local visitors.

“Venue preparations are all done, and the canopies and main stage have been set up.”

Even the performers from overseas have begun to arrive. All that is needed now are the visitors.

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