Sarawak tour specialists have criticised the state government’s fiscal incentives, deeming it insufficient to support the tourism sector’s recovery from Covid-19.
The two initiatives, which are the Visitors Incentive Package (VIP) and the Sarawak Tourism Online Ecosystem Fund, total RM2.25 million (US$530,000), according to media reports.
The incentives were announced by the state’s tourism, arts and culture minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah at the “Post Covid-19 Tourism Sectors Dialogue Session – Sarawak Reopens for Tourism” held at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching on Monday, which was attended by over 100 industry partners including Sarawak Tourism Federation, Association Sarawak Inbound Agents, and Sarawak Tourism Board (STB).
For the VIP package, travel agencies in Sarawak will receive support for tour packages sold that has a minimum of 4 pax and a maximum of 15 pax at any one time, excluding children under the age of two.
For 3D/2N packages sold, the agent will receive RM30 (US$7) for each of the first four tourists, and an additional RM20 for each subsequent tourist.
As for 4D/3N packages, the agent will get RM40 for each of the first four tourists, and an additional RM25 for each subsequent tourist.
Lastly, for 5D/4N packages, the agent will receive RM50 for each of the first four tourists, and an additional RM30 for each subsequent tourist. The incentives for all three packages are capped at 15 pax.
The second initiative, Sarawak Tourism Online Ecosystem Fund, is a catalytic programme to expand Sarawak tourism’s digital footprint and share of voice, in collaboration with industry partners.
For this incentive, STB will grant up to RM5,000 per tour operator for website development and maintenance, content production and digital advertising promoting Sarawak tourism. In addition, digital roadshows will also be conducted in Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri, Bakalalan and Bario.
“The Sarawak Tourism Online Ecosystem Fund seeks to align all industry players, with its key objective being the enhancement of digital economy within the tourism sector. It also aims to support and enhance the use of e-commerce to drive more traffic within the ecosystem,” said Datuk Karim.
The incentives, which are available on a first-come-first-served basis, will run from July 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
However, local tour operators said that the subsidies are insufficient to stimulate tourism demand and encourage interstate travel.
Kuching-based Cat City Holidays managing director, Mok Venia, shared that domestic travel demand is still very low, and that the subsidies under the VIP package are too meagre to excite a domestic tourists to travel to Sarawak, especially when airfares are still high.
Citing examples, she said the 3D package in Kuching sold by the company is RM400 per person, while a 3D/2N Mulu excursion package costs RM1,300 per person. As such, she doubted a RM30 subsidy is going to excite a traveller to purchase either package. Instead, she proposed a subsidy of 80 per cent of the tour cost, which she said would really help to stimulate the tourism sector in Sarawak.
Mok said the state government could refunnel the funds intended for familiarisation trips for overseas agents and media this year into such purposes instead, as such trips would be cancelled due to Covid-19.
Another inbound operator based in Sarawak, Ashweein Narayanan, director, Amogha Tours & Travel, also agreed that the government should give more financial support to make the tour packages compelling.
But he warned that it had to be kept to a short time period “otherwise it would be difficult to raise the prices back to normal”.
He also opined that financial support should be given to tour operators and agents before the tours commence, to help ease cash flow issues.