The reason for State Government of Sarawak and Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad hosting Routes Asia is to boost the international awareness of Kuching and Sarawak to the airline community. One airline that already serves the region is Singaporean carrier SilkAir and The HUB Daily spoke to its vice president commercial, Ryan Pua, ahead of the forum to learn more about the market from an airline perspective
SilkAir began its services to Kuching in March 2005, and it is one of 45 destinations served by the carrier, the regional division of Singapore Airlines (SIA). “Flying into Kuching keeps up with our commitment to present exciting and exotic Asian destinations for our customers and our efforts have seen strong support from the Sarawak state government,” said Pua.
The carrier initially operated three return flights per week but since October 2013 it has been flying a fourth weekly rotation, a network growth that is being maintained during the forthcoming northern summer schedule which launches later this month.
“When Kuching comes to mind, many view it as simply another city in Malaysia. But when you take a closer look, you will find that part of Kuching's attractiveness is in its preservation of history, heritage, wildlife and rainforests,” said Pua
“The city is appealing as an international destination and viable as a global route because of the diverse attractions on offer to the globe-trotting traveller. Kuching is also a part of the larger state of Sarawak connecting travellers to other major towns such as Bintulu, Sibu and Miri use the city to fly out of the state,” he added.
Kuching certainly has a lot to offer the traveller. History lovers roving around Kuching can learn about Sarawak's rich history at Fort Magherita and the Sarawak State Museum while wildlife lovers can observe orang utans up close at the Semenggoh wildlife rehabilitation centre, located 24 kilometres from the city. Those keen on nature can go to one of Sarawak's more popular national park, the Bako National Park, while hikers can climb one of the three peaks at the Kubah National Park, visible even from the Kuching waterfront.
“Kuching is not only a gateway to rich heritage, breathtaking sights and wildlife, it also celebrates its diversity in a big way,” said Pua. A perfect way to get introduced to these cultures is through the Sarawak Cultural Village in Pantai Santubong where travellers experience a 'Living Museum' of different traditions and heritage of people living in Sarawak.
Pua believes a hub connection to destinations such as its Changi Airport base in Singapore will only improve its appeal to business travellers, albeit the current flight frequency could impact this. “Tapping into the business traveller market is bound to open up opportunities for leisure travel, so Kuching needs to continue working on improving its infrastructure and boosting awareness of its attractions and services,” he said.
Institutions such as the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) have been working very hard to draw the MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conferences, Conventions, and Exhibitions and Events) traffic to Kuching, including this week’s Routes Asia forum. “Events like this will only benefit Kuching and introduce the city to a wider audience and showcase its potential,” he added.
The future for leisure tourism and adventure travel is bright for Kuching, a city with a population of 330,000 people, but there is always room for further growth. “To further increase demand in the tourism sector for Kuching, airlines can play the role of 'salesman',” said Pua. “This is done by working closely with government agencies to create greater awareness of Kuching in the overseas markets through roadshows and agency familiarisation trips.”
He said that airlines can also play the role of a 'middle man' by offering convenient connections for travellers, as shown by SilkAir and SIA’s role in providing the seamless connections to the rest of the world. “As in any growing tourism market, stronger marketing and cooperation between airlines, airports, governments and tourism boards are always needed to improve on demand by providing travellers with unforgettable experiences,” said Pua.
It is important that Kuching invests in ways to raise market awareness about its strategic location, filling any gaps the industry and travellers may have about its attractiveness when comparing it to its peers in the region,” he added.