KUCHING: Tourism industry players in Sarawak are not going to sit by idly and watch the state’s air accessibility issue unresolved.
Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) is expected to forward a memorandum to Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia on Tuesday, asking the airlines to explain and clarify changes in flight schedules.
Some federation members are also lobbying for the memorandum to be forwarded to the Federal Transport Ministry and Tourism Ministry.
The memorandum was initially slated to be presented at the Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards here last night, but STF is now seeking more time to seek consensus from its member bodies, which ranges from tour operators to hoteliers.
STF president Audry Wan Ullok told The Star other organisations, like local Chamber of Commerce associations across the state, were also to be apart of the memorandum. “As such, we need a bit more time to gather all statistics that we feel will be relevant.
“The federation’s Sibu office is especially worried about future developments since they are without a MAS Sibu-KL flight, ever since Firefly took over that route.” STF honorary secretary-general Philip Yong said the memorandum’s points would be finalised at an emergency meeting tomorrow.
“We sort of know what is happening to the airlines, but we want a measured response. We want to know what the airlines’ solution will be and we are hoping for a positive response.” MAS, including its subsidiaries Firefly and MASwings, and AirAsia are presently undergoing an extensive flight rationalisation exercise.
This began after a share swap deal, which was announced in August. Since then, rumours have persisted about Firefly’s soon-to-be downsized role in the national aviation industry.
On Sept 15, Kuching-Johor was the first Firefly route axed nationally. Since last week, it appeared Firefly flights from Sarawak to peninsula with too few ticket holders have begun to be cancelled.
Passengers are either being put on later Firefly or MAS flights. On Thursday, Sarawak Tourism Board held its quarterly board meeting and those present described the four-hour long meeting as a heated one, mainly on the topic of flight rationalisations.
Senior board members apparently told off the federation for not coming up with a media statement sooner to press the airlines to be forthcoming about their plans for Sarawak.
Insiders also said board members conceded the initial foreign arrivals target of four million for this year would be unachievable, given fewer affordable flights to Sarawak. Meanwhile, ex-Tourism Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing said the present confusion was “creating havoc”.
“Their actions will affect Sarawak’s tourism industry very badly,” Masing said, who was Tourism Minister in the late 1990s. He is now Land Minister.
“Without air connectivity continuity, we might as well kiss international tourism in Sarawak goodbye. MAS-AirAsia must stop looking at Sarawak as just another state.
“We are a huge region within Malaysia, which requires much more air links. “Unfortunately, air connectivity has been a problem since I was the minister. Fifteen years later, the problem persists.” Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines- East ASEAN Growth Area (Bimp-EAGA) Tourism Council chairman for Malaysia, Datuk Wee Hong Seng, said the airlines would have a lot work to do to regain consumer confidence.
“They are stuck in this mindset whereby they believe if there is only one airline for a particular route, then that one airline will definitely make money. I don’t think that is really the case.
Even if there is just one airline, if people don’t like the airline, then they will not travel here. They will just go to another place. So who will lose out the most? Sarawak.”