Sarawak – an inclusive tourist destination

Sarawak is a destination unlike any other. With its vast rainforests, stunning landscapes, and rich indigenous cultures, the Land of the Hornbills offers a unique travel experience for all, including Muslim travellers.

According to Sharzede Datu Salleh Askor, chief executive officer of the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), the state tourism has been focusing on five pillars: culture, adventure, nature, food and festival.

“These five pillars are the main thrusts we have been using to position tourism in Sarawak, since 2018. With 31 ethnic groups, Sarawak boasts abundant cultural diversity, festivals, and delicious food,” said Sharzede.

“Additionally, the adventure and nature found in Sarawak are truly gifts from God. We are responsible for leveraging these natural wonders to promote Sarawak as a destination.”

Sarawak is also one of the most sought-after destinations for medical tourism due to its affordable, high-quality healthcare services.

Sharzede noted that Malaysia had effectively positioned itself as a Muslim-friendly destination, thanks to its diverse population. She added that this was beneficial, as it allowed the country to appeal to those seeking Muslim-friendly experiences and a broader audience.

“In Sarawak, we strive to be inclusive and ensure that our facilities cater to the halal market and Muslim tourists.

“Understanding that being Muslim-friendly does not mean excluding other groups, is essential. We should be receptive to the needs of all visitors.

“If our target market is Middle Eastern tourists, we must prepare accordingly by understanding their preferences and needs. Knowing your market and tailoring your approach to attract and retain them is essential.

“In the past, this segment grew organically. Now, we are focusing on tapping into the Middle Eastern market. We are excited to collaborate with the Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) and others to gain a deeper understanding of this market and prepare ourselves accordingly,” said Sharzede.

She highlighted the importance of maintaining consistency in attracting the desired market. She noted that the state actively participated in expos such as the Dubai Expo and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) to ensure continued visibility in the Middle Eastern travel market.

With approximately 30 per cent of the population in Sarawak being Muslim, Sharzede believes that the state has what it takes to be the ideal Muslim-friendly destination. The state already has the necessary facilities, mosques, and the availability of halal food, and it just needs to enhance these offerings to tap further into the Muslim tourist market.

“You can see how diverse the Muslim community is in Sarawak and how they integrate with other ethnic groups. For those who wish to experience the culture of Sarawak with a Muslim element, I believe this is a great way to do so.”

She revealed that seven hotels in Sarawak received the Muslim-Friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) certificate from ITC. They are, the Waterfront Hotel, Kuching; Hilton Kuching; Riverside Majestic (Astana), Kuching; Riverside Majestic (Puteri), Kuching; Grand Margherita, Kuching; Pullman Hotel, Kuching; and Pullman Hotel, Miri.

Sharzede mentioned that while the Middle Eastern market in Sarawak might not be huge, Malaysia has had healthy growth, overall.

She further explained that Sarawak was embarking on a catalytic initiative to make Kuching an Umrah gateway, which is why it is the right time to tap into the Middle Eastern market.

“Yes, Umrah and the Middle Eastern market are distinct markets, but by venturing into this area, we can make our presence felt. Our Kuching Umrah Gateway initiative will commence this year. However, the limited aircraft availability has caused a slight delay in the launch.

“InsyaAllah, we will be starting the initiative this year. When it starts, we will bring thousands of people for Umrah from Kuching to Madinah or Jeddah. Our strategy involves offering tour packages that include a Muslim-friendly tour in Sarawak, where passengers can stay in Kuching before or after their tour.”

Sharzede highlighted that the Kuching Umrah Gateway initiative will help boost the economy as it would involve state industry players. The focus will also be on welcoming Muslim tourists from Kalimantan and other parts of Indonesia.

“The potential market for this initiative is huge, and we are optimistic that it will attract more direct flights to Sarawak,” she added. However, direct connectivity remains a significant challenge for Sarawak, despite it being the largest state in Malaysia. –  Rest&Rehlah

Tagged with: