Sarawak Flaunts Unique Charms to Draw Tourists

SARAWAK is capitalising on its unique attractions to woo tourism dollars

from the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions sector, said

Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Dr James Dawos Mamit.

“Some of

Sarawak’s assets and heritage have a natural advantage over Kuala

Lumpur. For example, meetings on tropical peat, tribal tattoos or even

gatherings of Foochows,” he told Business Times in an interview.

In 2009, Malaysia welcomed 1.18 million business travellers who spent

RM9.9 billion in flight tickets, hotel rooms, taxis and train fares, and

for dining and shopping.

Business travellers make up 5 per

cent of total tourist arrivals, but the RM10 billion they spend in

Malaysia makes up 19 per cent of total tourism receipts.

When asked to comment on a Netherlands-based environment activist group

claiming that the expansion of oil palm plantations on peatland in

Sarawak is based on faulty science, Mamit replied, “It is these kind of

misunderstandings and mistaken perception of tropical peat that fuels

the need for a more effective communication platform.

“Kuching

recently won the bid to host the International Peat Congress (IPC) in

2016. It will be the first time an international gathering on peat soil

science will be held in Asia.

“Here in the tropics, peatland is

used as a planting medium for agriculture. Its content and usage is

very much different from that in cold countries like the Netherlands

where temperate peat is harvested for horticulture and exported as peat

moss,” he said.

“Some European countries, like Ireland, harvest it and burn it to generate electricity,” he added.

“We see the IPC 2016 as a good platform to disseminate the facts and

field information on the development and conservation of tropical peat,”

he added.

In its website, the European environment activist

grouping claimed that much of the expansion of oil palm plantations in

Sarawak will be at the cost of forests and further endangerment of

threatened species such as the orangutans.

To this, Mamit

referred to Sarawak Forestry’s recent declaration that Sebuyau and

Sedilu, covering 20,000ha and 5,000ha respectively, are now officially

homes for orangutans.

Studies show there are about 2,500 orangutans in the wild in Sarawak. With the two new additions, Mamit said the six orangutan sanctuaries in Sarawak will boost eco-tourism activities.

The environment activist grouping also claimed that Malaysian Palm Oil

Board (MPOB) and Sarawak’s Tropical Peat Research Laboratory (TPRL) are

carrying out pseudo scientific research in a desperate effort to

justify the destruction of around a million hectares of peat swamp for

palm oil production.

Mamit responded that the credibility of

scientific researches is on the methodologies and he has utmost

confidence that MPOB and TPRL’s works will be able to withstand peer

scrutiny.

In a separate interview, Miri Member of Parliament

Datuk Seri Peter Chin concurred with Mamit that the environment

activist group’s claim that MPOB and TPRL’s peat experiments are being

paid by oil palm planters, is factually wrong.

“It’s not true,

it is factually wrong. The RM40 million allocated for peat research

comes under the 9th Malaysia Plan (2006-2010). It is not funded by oil

palm planters,” he said.

When Chin was still helming the

Plantation Industry and Commodities Ministry from 2004 to 2009, he was

responsible for spearheading initiatives to facilitate peat soil

research. He is now Energy, Green Technology and Water minister.

“How can it be said that research work being carried out by MPOB and

TPRL are funded by the industry and therefore biased?” Chin questioned.

“Peat soil research is of national interest and therefore, funded by

the government. The experiments being carried out by MPOB and TPRL are

adhering to international protocols and subjected to peer reviews,” he

said.

When asked why the activists are so quick and vehement

in their criticism of the credible work being carried out by MPOB and

TPRL scientists, Chin replied, “they may have their own agenda. Whatever

these environment activists want to lobby, the truth on carbon

emissions and sequestration shall prevail.

“Science is a fact-finding process. Let us not succumb to or be misled by fear of the unknown,” Chin added.

In a separate interview, Sarawak Convention bureau chairman Datuk Seri

Dr Muhammad Leo Michael Toyad said it is important for Sarawak to

expand its tourism industry further as it draws close to a million

business visitors a year.

They collectively contribute around

RM50 million to Sarawak’s economy. Tourism is the state’s third-largest

employer, supporting one in every 10 jobs. “Business travellers spend

three times more than an average leisure visitor,” he said.

Muhammad Leo then highlighted the Anak Sarawak Award ceremony where

associations and influential individuals who won bids for new national

or international conventions are honoured for their commitment and

dedication to bring in businesses to Sarawak.

The fourth

“Anak Sarawak Award 2010” themed Night of the Pharaohs – Victory Feast,

was recently held at the Borneo Convention Centre in Kuching.

This year, Muhammad Leo said, there will be 42 new conventions to be

held in Kuching. “We expect some 25,000 delegates to fly in and land an

economic impact of about RM50 million,” he said.

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