Sarawak — best kept secret no more

The land of hornbills is now more than ready to woo the global audiences to its state-of-the-art exhibition and convention facilities

By DASHVEENJIT KAUR/ Pic By BERNAMA

Sarawak may be known as “Asia’s best kept secret”, but the good people from the “Land of the Hornbills” are working very hard to unlock the state’s real potential and flaunt it to the world.

The largest among the 13 states in Malaysia, and home to more than 27 ethnic groups, Sarawak is no longer attracting visitors merely for its out- back of sheer beauty that is rich in resources.

The state today is fast becoming the region’s choice for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE), a sector that has been invested heavily upon, especially in recent years.

Abang Johari is certainly optimistic that business events are one of the very important components for the development and promotion of Sarawak as a destination of choice

Sarawak is now more than ready to woo the global audiences to its state-of-the-art exhibition and convention facilities, and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg is rallying his people to open the door wider to international crowd.

As it is, the Sarawak state government is working hard to enhance the social and physical infrastructures in Sarawak, and its capital city Kuching in particular.

Abang Johari is certainly optimistic that business events are one of the very important components for the development and promotion of Sarawak as a destination of choice.

“The government has invested a lot of money to upgrade the state’s facilities in order to provide accommodations, venues and facilities to promote Sarawak as a destination for business events,” he told reporters at a press conference that was held in conjunction with the state’s inaugural Business Events Tribal Meet 2018 (TriBE 2018) in Kuching last week.

TriBE 2018 is an initiative of the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) that drew 300 selected business events experts from national associations, sector partners, global and national media, and government officials.

SCB, a body formed by the state government, organised TriBE 2018 with the aim of facilitating Sarawak’s digital economic transformation through business events.

Established in 2006, SCB has oiled the wheels of Sarawak’s potential in the business event arena.

More Than Just Business

The events business in the state has accumulated a total revenue of RM645 million since Sarawak first started playing host more than a decade ago.

Abang Johari is confident that Sarawak holds a favourable ecosystem — a mixture of serious business and leisure that would lure visitors to stay.

He said the government is putting an equal amount of efforts to improve the state’s connectivity.

“Connectivity to other parts of Sarawak is crucial for delegates to explore and visit post-events to attractions like Mulu National Park in Miri, apart from the five national parks in Kuching,” he added.

Abang Johari also welcomes the efforts by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) in its plan to upgrade the facilities at the Kuching International Airport.

“I am unsure if MAHB will continue the project as announced before the general election, but I hope they will. The airport needs to be up to international standards,” he added.

As for the development of a low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) via a negotiation between Sarawak and AirAsia Group Bhd, Abang Johari confirmed discussions are still ongoing.

He said the two parties have agreed in principle on the project, but the details are still being worked out. “This joint investment with AirAsia is a significant one to improve and provide connectivity between Kuching and strategic destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong,” he added.

Abang Johari said the LCCT plan might just materialise within the next two years.

As for the “Heart of Borneo” initiative shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, Abang Johari said it is one of the common areas that would work very well to promote the three countries.

“These three nations have great potential to work together as there are a lot of opportunities, among which is the event business,” he added.

A Central Business District

According to SCB, Kuching Isthmus — an island located 8km away from the city — is slated to be a new central business district (CBD).

The development project plan consists of the Kuching Tower, the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK), the Kuching Isthmus Hypermarket Mall, office buildings, a luxury hotel and residential areas.

In recent years, plans for this massive project have changed with the inclusion of Sarawak Energy Bhd’s headquarters and the UCSI Hotel.

Developed by Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd, the project sits on a 774-acre (313.23ha) land mass and is only about 2km from the Kuching city centre. The CBD is said to be at the fore- front of the state’s MICE sector. It currently brings a large number of foreign and domestic visitors as well as revenue and attention to Sarawak as a

whole.

Journey with the Federal Government

The chief minister has remained firm with his prime target to safeguard the interest of the state and to protect its rights, as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution and Malaysia Agreement 1963.

The Sarawak state government, accodding to Abang Johari, has always collaborated closely with the federal government to improve its MICE sector.

“There will be constant engagement, and the new federal government needs to know that what it is trying to accomplish at the national level can also be achieved by Sarawak at the state level,” he said.

However, he said Sarawak is stead-fast in not depending entirely on the federal government.

The state plans to have its own initiatives and efforts to enhance the brand.

“Based on experiences in the past two decades, we’d rather not take the risk…but of course, we will still continue to work together closely with the federal government,” he added.

It Takes 2 to Tango

In achieving greater heights, it is less me and more we, so to speak, as shown by the enthusiasm shared by Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah at the TriBE 2018’s launch of BESarawak Alliance.

He said BESarawak Alliance, an associate platform for government ministries and agencies to further Sarawak’s economic transformation, will unleash the potential of business events in its continued contribution to the state.

“It is not only a lucrative source of immediate economic contribution, but the spillover to other key sector areas are essential in creating a sustainable and stronger Sarawak.

“Through a strong collaboration between other ministries and agencies, business events can be reinforced as a pivotal driver for the development of the state,” Abdul Karim said in his opening remarks at TriBE 2018.