Bringing back the Europeans

Sarawak is lining up a series of campaigns and partnerships to entice Europeans back to the destination, which has been impacted by a slew of cuts in air services in the last few years.

Performance by the Iban tribe in Sarawak at the Sarawak Cultural Village

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) has intensified efforts to create greater visibility for the East Malaysian state in its traditional market of Europe, after tourism took a hit following the loss of air services linking the continent to Malaysia in recent years.

European arrivals to Malaysia plunged when Malaysia Airlines axed Frankfurt from its flight network in April 2015, followed by Amsterdam and Paris in January 2016, as part of its route rationalisation exercise to stem losses.

Performance by the Iban tribe in Sarawak at the Sarawak Cultural Village

“With a bigger marketing budget, we are going all out to rebuild promotions in Europe by working with more airline partners and increasing our product offerings from this year on,” said STB’s CEO Sharzede Datu Hj Salleh Askor.

Just months earlier, European carriers Air France and Lufthansa had also cancelled their services to Kuala Lumpur in October 2015 and February 2016 respectively.

The attention given to longhaul markets is deemed critical as key European markets including Germany, the UK, France and Benelux countries are year-round, high-yield tourists who spend an average of two weeks in Sarawak.

To boost arrivals from Europe, STB is working with airline partners that have European sectors on several tactical and joint marketing campaigns, said Sharzede.

In addition, STB had participated in ITB Berlin earlier this year, and will lead the private sector at the upcoming ITB Asia in Singapore and World Travel Market in London in November.

The board is targeting 77,138 tourist arrivals from Europe this year, representing a five per cent growth from 2018. It hopes to grow European tourist arrivals to 82,538 next year, which is also designated Visit Malaysia 2020, and to 84,800 European visitors in 2021.

While Sarawak’s past promotions for the European market were focused on soft adventure and cultural attractions, this year, the state NTO wants to raise interest in other areas such as nature, the local cuisine and unique festival offerings including the world renowned Rainforest World Music Festival on the foothills of Mount Santubong and the Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri.

Nature-based events being promoted in Europe include the International Bornean Frog Race, an event focused on promoting awareness, interest and education about amphibians and amphibian conservation around the world. Sarawak’s Kubah National Park is also home to the world’s second smallest frog, the Microhyla Nepenthicola species. Another annual event being promoted in Europe is the Sarawak International Bird Race. Sarawak has 22 bird areas designated by BirdLife International in which inhabits 54 endemic bird species.

“Including nature in the promotions is a good move as this will interest Europeans. If the marketing campaign is done well, we should see an increased interest to Sarawak next year,” said Manfred Kurz, managing director, Diethelm Travel Malaysia.

“It is good that STB is having multiple airline partnerships with airlines that service both Europe and Malaysia through their hubs, as it is a logical thing to do.

“The state government should look into infrastructure development and attracting more investments to the state. Having an international hotel brand on Damai Beach will make it easier to sell the destination, while also increasing the length of stay of Europeans.”

Nigel Wong, director, Urban Rhythms Tours, Adventures & Travel said growing the arrivals from the European longhaul market is ideal for the state which already attracts mature European travellers in their late 30s or older, as this segment likes destinations that are peaceful and not overcrowded.

“At ITB Berlin, there was a large amount of interest on Sabah and Sarawak. Both states conjure up images of a lush and pristine destination which appeals to the European market. STB’s marketing efforts will reinforce the image of Sarawak as an attractive tourism destination and help it reach its intended markets in Europe,” he said.

“Sarawak’s appeal has always been the rainforest, conservation of nature, wildlife and authentic experiences. This marketing effort by STB to promote diversified attractions will resonate well with the market. Along with regular product updates from the state NTO, we should be able to promote Sarawak as an exciting and attractive destination. Since ITB Berlin, we have already seen a pickup in bookings for the destination; with Visit Malaysia 2020 fast approaching, we hope interest will continue,” Wong added.

Adam Kamal, general manager, Tour East Malaysia, said: “We have a lot of requests from European travellers to Sarawak who are interested in visiting UNESCO World Heritage site Mulu National Park. We sell the destination as an educational adventure experience where visitors can learn about the earth’s geosystem while they seek adventure.

“With increased marketing and promotion of diversified attractions, this will attract repeat and new visitors from Europe. Because Sarawak is a niche destination, getting higher yield per tourist is always better than going after mass tourism which could negatively impact the destination.

“I hope the joint international tourism development programme between Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airports Holdings will also attract more Middle Eastern airlines to fly direct to Kuching as that will further boost tourism.”

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