KUCHING: Firefly’s impending pullout from Sarawak before the yearend may mean that the targeted four million foreign tourist arrivals, a figure set by state authorities earlier this year, is unlikely to be achieved.
This is according to Sarawak Tourism Federation, an umbrella association for the private sector, which said the pullout would be a huge setback for the industry, coming just months after Royal Brunei Airlines closed its Kuching-Brunei route.
Federation president Audry Wan Ullok said Firefly’s high flight frequency – up to seven times daily between Kuching and Kuala Lumpur plus the high load factor of about 70% would be a big gap to fill.
“My feeling is we will really start to feel the impact (of Firefly’s possible pullout) during the year-end school holiday,” Audry told The Star here yesterday.
“Domestic tourists make up a very big part of our industry. Because of that, cheap airfares have always been an important ingredient of Sarawak’s tourism.
“As for non-Malaysian tourists, they have to transit because of lack of direct flights. Travel expenses to Sarawak are a big part of tourist budgets. Often times, travelling costs more than accommodation.”
Last year, about 3.2 million tourists came to Sarawak, out of which 1.4 million were domestic travellers.
Peninsular Malaysians made up about 747,000 and Sabahans about 625,000. Non-Malaysian arrivals were just over 1.9 million, with Bruneians making up about 1.19 million.For 2011, arrivals in Sarawak were increasing.
Year-to-date arrivals growth had been around 20%, with the rate of non-Malaysian arrivals increasing faster than domestic travellers.
Based on the growth rate in the first half the year, the Tourism and Heritage Ministry had aimed for arrivals to top out at 4 million.
“We were on track to hit the new record for Sarawak,” Audry said yesterday. “Now I don’t think so any more. It could even be likely that figures (for the late part of the year) could decline.”
The industry now is banking on low-cost operator AirAsia to pick up Firefly’s cancelled flights.Rahim Bugo, the operator of Permai Rainforest Resort, about 30km from here, said the eco-tourism sector would be hardest hit. “Sarawak doesn’t attract much ‘luxury’ tourists.
We get nature and adventure tourists, who are less able to afford higher prices. Price is an issue for them,” Rahim said.