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KUALA LUMPUR, 11 MARCH 2022 – With Sarawak state government putting in place a strategic roadmap to achieve its economic growth plans, aviation is set to play a key role in the tourism industry.

The Sarawak state government launched the Post-COVID-19 Development Strategy (PCDS) plans last year which will see Malaysia’s largest state doubling its economic pie with a forecast GDP of RM282 billion by 2030 from just RM136 billion in 2019. 

While the state government has put in place a strategic roadmap to achieve its plan in the next 10 years, Pankaj Kumar, an investment and economic analyst says it is even more crucial for Sarawak to step-up on its aviation industry, which plays a key role to not only drive the tourism industry but businesses as well. 

“More than 5.95 million vaccine doses have been administered to individuals across Sarawak, with the state also recording the highest vaccination rate of children aged five to 11 years in the country. With the economy opening up, it is time for Sarawak to strategise and bring in more tourist arrivals. Unlike Sabah, which has only the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), Sarawak has two international airports, the Kuching International Airport (KIA) and the Miri International Airport (MIA).”

“However, KKIA has direct flights to more international destinations and this includes those to Bandar Sri Begawan, Tokyo (seasonal), Manila, Singapore, Busan, Seoul, and Taipei.

“In fact, the connection to the two South Korean cities saw Sabah attracting almost 400,000 tourists in 2019. For KIA, the only direct flights available are those from Bandar Sri Begawan, Singapore while for MIA, Scoot Tigerair is currently the only airline that offers two direct flights from Singapore to Miri per week, despite the city’s international airport status.” 

He adds that both KKIA and KIA, as well as MIA, are well connected with the domestic touchpoints from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru as they are the main entry points for Malaysians to travel to East Malaysia. However, connectivity with international cities is clearly lacking. 

“Being the largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is well-positioned to be a tourism hub in Borneo as we have seen the data that shows it has tremendous growth potential in terms of tourist arrivals.

“Both Kuching and Miri, as international airports, is well connected within the nearest other international cities, but only if connectivity is there, especially cities from Indonesia, Philippines, and Australia and to a larger extent cities from North Asia like Shenzhen and Haikou.”

Aviation and airport infra

In terms of infrastructure, Sarawak has spent rather substantially on airport infrastructure, especially with the new airports in Mukah (in June 2021) and various other expansions in other airports. However, Pankaj opines that the two main airports, KIA and MIA need further investments as both have outlived their present capacity. 

“KIA handled some 5.96 million passengers, while MIA served 2.43 million passengers in 2019 while the design capacity of both of these airports is at 5 million and 2 million respectively.

“The federal government will need to provide further allocation for the expansion of these two airports, especially in relation to the baggage handling system, airline check-in counters, additional immigration counters, and larger departure areas plus increasing the number of gates.”

“Sarawak, which accounts for about 9.5% of the nation’s GDP in 2020 according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), has tremendous potential especially in relation to its tourism industry. However, the government, both the state and federal needs to work together to bring Sarawak to the next level with better connectivity, improved airport capabilities, and to make Sarawak a true frontier Malaysian state,” Pankaj concludes.

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