Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Eastern Europeans flocking to Sarawak in droves

KUCHING: An increasing number of tourists from eastern Europe are coming to Sarawak, drawn by the state’s nature attractions and tropical weather.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Gracie Geikie said some 5,900 visitors from the region came last year; almost triple the number of arrivals in 2005.

She said the surge was significant as the board had not carried out any tourism road shows there, like it had done in western Europe, its traditional market.

Ironically, the number of visitors from the western European countries had slipped to just 1,900 last year, down from 2,300 in the previous year.

She said this was largely because of the rationalisation exercise by Malaysia Airlines, which saw the rural air service, including flights to Mulu, handed over to Fly Asian Xpress (FAX) in August last year.

Geikie said the hard work by Tourism Malaysia and local tour operators had helped to make Sarawak the new destination for holidaymakers from eastern Europe.

“It is a totally new market for Sarawak, with most of the tourists coming from Poland in big groups.

“They are attracted to nature and the tropical weather.

“They also like the beaches and five-star hotel facilities,” she told The Star yesterday.

Geikie said the eastern Europeans stay between seven and 10 days and their favourite spot is the Mulu National Park, a world heritage site.

She said the STB would consider tourism campaigns in eastern Europe.

On western Europe, which is Sarawak’s key long haul market, Geikie said visitors from there normally stay between 14 and 21 days, spending an average of US$1,500 (RM5,200) each during their stay.

“They like culture, adventure and nature - the state’s main tourism attributes which are 60% rural-based,” she said.

On the drop of visitors from the west, she said the airline switch created interlining and connectivity problems to rural destinations and resulted in some 70% of the 16,000 rural air services bookings with MAS cancelled.

Block bookings of series groups up to next month were also suspended, she said, adding that major tour wholesalers, including some 300 in Europe, were still unable to have seamless bookings for their clients.

Geikie said although between 10% and 15% of European tour wholesalers had resumed selling Sarawak packages, they have yet to re-market the Mulu packages.

“We will try to convince major tour wholesalers to reinstate Sarawak and Mulu packages at next month’s International Tourism Bourse,” she said, referring to the world’s largest travel exhibition that would be held in Berlin.

FAX officials are expected to join the 11-member STB delegation, which comprises hoteliers and tour operators.

Source : STAR
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