For the first time at a World Travel Market, in 2022 Sarawak, Malaysia’s biggest state, had a stand of its own.
“We are on our own to show the differentiation of our products from other states in Malaysia,” explains Sharzede Datu Haji Salleh Askor, the Chief Executive Officer of the Sarawak Tourism Board.
Just 2.9 million people live in Sarawak. It has one of the lowest human population densities in Malaysia. That includes 31 ethnic groups and 40 sub-groups.
“You can imagine the variety of heritage, culture and food,” says the CEO, whose tourism promotion focuses on five elements: culture, adventure, nature, food and festivals.
New in Sarawak
One of the new products is Borneo Cultures Museum. The museum is the largest in Malaysia and the second largest in Southeast Asia. “It has five stories. You can spend hours in there and you’ll know about all 31 ethnicities,” says Askor of the attraction, which opened in March 2022.
“We are very much into sustainability and responsible tourism. A lot of projects go into the rural areas, where we like to showcase the livelihoods and lifestyle of the communities and do a lot of community-based tourism products,” explains Askor.
“We are very much into the blue and green economies,” adds the CEO, emphasising Sarawak’s focus on the circular economy and environmental commitment, including to protecting wild areas. That has resulted in legislation introducing a sustainability blueprint focusing on reducing consumption, improving waste management and increasing engagement with local communities.
The redevelopment of a five-kilometre stretch of the Kuching riverfront, between Kampung Boyan and Fort Margherita, will be completed soon forming part of the Kuching Heritage Trail.
How to sell Sarawak
Sarawak’s key attractions include its authenticity and ecotourism products.
“These days it’s all about people going into and immersing themselves in nature. 80 per cent of our landmass is rainforest and you can go caving in Sarawak,” she says.
Average stays in the state are 5.5 days but the Sarawak Tourism Board’s target is to extend that to 7.5 days. It is a destination that tends to appeal to travellers who are 35 to 40 years of age and above.
Millennial travellers also visit, focusing on hard adventure tourism.
“Soft adventure is also available if you love caving and walking in the rainforest,” says the CEO. The Niah Caves system in Niah National Park holds traces of the oldest-recorded human settlement in Malaysia.
“If you love nature and wildlife, you can see orangutans [at Semengoh Nature Reserve] just 45 minutes away from Kuching, Sarawak’s biggest city. I would recommend Bako National Park, one of the oldest national parks in Malaysia,” she adds.
Boat rides also offer opportunities to view Sarawak’s birds and wildlife. From 23 to 25 June 2023, the Rainforest World Music Festival presents opportunities to sell Sarawak to music lovers.
Information about Sarawak “We collaborate with the LVG learning platform”, adds Askor, inviting agents to access an online course providing agents with information about Sarawak and its tourism products.
The state is active at Tourism Malaysia travel trade roadshows. It participates separately at major trade shows such as ITB, MACA and WTM.
Fam tours are a way for agents to immerse themselves in Sarawak’s offerings. “We encourage people to come forward to us if they are interested in having a fam tour,” says the CEO.
Packages featuring overnight stays in traditional longhouses offer travellers opportunities to immerse themselves in Sarawak’s traditional heritage. Orangutan viewing packages are available from longhouses. Wildlife-focused packages with other points of focus are also available.
Responsible tourism packages also facilitate travellers engaging with Sarawak’s local communities. Empowering communities to gain economic and social benefits from tourism are key elements of the state’s sustainability blueprint.
“With our post-COVID strategy, we aim to be Asia’s premier destination for eco-tourism by 2030. We are very focused and with our masterplan and strategy, we have crystalised our journey and aim on making it a reality for the state…it is about uniting people and moving things forward,” concludes the Askor, welcoming international travellers to experience the state.