Sharzede Datu HJ Salleh Askor, Chief Executive Officer, Sarawak Tourism, talks about her organisation’s new strategy…

The head of Sarawak Tourism has announced a “new phase” of the state’s “Visit Sarawak” campaign. We asked her firstly what phase one consisted of.

It was very much about awareness – more particularly in the ASEAN, Southeast Asian and domestic markets. These have seen a rise of about 12% in the number of arrivals in the past year. Phase two is about asserting our presence globally, in particular in the Australian and European markets – in particular the UK, Benelux and Scandinavia, with an integrated marketing-communication exercise. Hence, for phase two, that is not so much about awareness, but about conversions. It’s not that we hadn’t been doing that to some extent in the past, but we the campaign will be more aggressive and intensive.

What are the challenges?

Connectivity is still a challenge, but we are very confident that we will be working a lot more in collaboration with airlines.

What are some of the events that are helping attract visitors?

There’s the Rainforest World Music Festival, which is an iconic event – taking place again next July. 40% of the people who attend are foreign visitors, and it’s listed as one of the top festivals of its kind in the world. We are working on a new programme where there will be the Rainforest festival, followed a week later by the Borneo Jazz festival in Miri… It is destined to become an iconic event in its own right. Miri has a lot of charm.

Are you promoting any lesser known destinations?

Yes, we have begun strongly promoting Sibu, which is in Central Sarawak. We are helping create packages for this “central gateway”, which has a different kind of charm and authenticity. At the World Travel Market, we had a number of local tour operators present promoting the region.

How do you work with Tourism Malaysia?

We always work very closely together. We, in some ways, were the precursors of Visit Malaysia 2020. Ours is not just a year, it’s a campaign. So we hope that this will change the mind-set of the whole industry about tourism in the state of Sarawak. That’s why we call it Visit Sarawak campaign, not Visit Sarawak year.

What are the concrete aims of the campaign?

Branding Sarawak, and giving people a sense of pride in the destination itself. We are going for niche and individual travellers, not groups. The aim is to balance the economic benefit for the locals as well as the tourism industry. A sense of belonging and pride is very important. It will then be a sustainable approach into developing our products.

What are the three key selling points of Sarawak?

I would say “The people, the people, the people.” You can’t get this anywhere else. A lot of people say that’s what is beautiful about Sarawak or Malaysia. It’s the warmth of the people, the harmony, and the way see things. Officially, we have five “pillars”: culture, adventure, nature, food and festivals. We have been focussing on the promotion of these pillars since day one of the Visit Sarawak campaign. They are our brand pillars, and we focus on them. But the essence of everything is about the people. We always say, “You come as strangers, but leave as family and friends.” That is very important – and people will come back because of the experience, the good feeling about the place, and so forth… and many even want to make Sarawak their second home.