KUCHING, May 6 ― The tourism and hospitality industry sees a pick-up in the number of visitors including Sarawakians returning from overseas since the reopening of the state borders.

Sarawak Tourism Federation president Audry Wan Ullok said with more flights in the Singapore-Kuching, Singapore-Miri and Royal Brunei Airlines sector, more people are expected to visit Sarawak.

“There’s also a pick-up among foreigners from Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and nearby countries. Hotels which offer staycation promotions have good occupancy over the Hari Raya Aidilfitri period,” she said when contacted yesterday.

However, the industry was also struggling with the implementation of the RM1,500 minimum wage starting this month.

She said before it (minimum wage) took effect, Minister of Human Resources Datuk Seri M Saravanan announced an exemption for farmers, hotels and tourism industries as well as companies with fewer than five employees, but was shocked when it was gazetted that the tourism industry was not exempted.

“Many don’t have the level of preparedness as they are just starting to recover. Having the cost put on them is really a struggle.

“Together with Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) and Hotel Association of Malaysia (MAH), we have written to the relevant authorities to have the tourism and hospitality industry exempted from the minimum wage order for at least six months, or until we have recovered to pre-pandemic levels,” said Audry.

She added that the cost of many businesses was rising, from the cost of raw material and food, so when the minimum wage went up, it was quite difficult for the businesses to make ends meet. Also, the wage subsidy had already been stopped.

She was however grateful the electricity subsidy from the government is still continued, as well as the Sia Sitok Sarawak Campaign programme of the state government.

Sarawak MAH chairman John Teo, meanwhile said Sarawak would see a rise in the number of visitors from Brunei once the land and sea borders were open, tentatively by May 16, while air travel has been permitted with flights between Brunei-Kuching and Brunei-Miri starting May 1.

“With the resumption of Tigerair Pte Ltd (Scoot) route from Singapore to Miri and Kuching, we do see a bit of improvement, at least with foreign arrivals from Singapore. This improves not only the tourism and hospitality industry but all sectors.”

Starting May 1, all hotel bookings have increased tremendously, and during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration, almost all hotels in Kuching, Miri and Bintulu had 80 per cent occupancy, he said.

“All restaurants, coffeehouses and shopping malls are flooded with people. With many Sarawakians celebrating Gawai soon, we expect hotels in Sarawak to be full again,” said Teo when contacted yesterday.

He thanked Sarawak Tourism Board for starting discussions with the MAH, travel agencies, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, on how best the government can assist the industry.

This led to the Sia Sitok Sarawak campaign, with the first one in Aug 2020, then April 2021, Feb 2022 and the next in July this year, he said.

Another promotion is for hotels on the Hotel Sarawak website, and Sarawak Escape promotion with AirAsia which offers hotel stay deals with flights, he added. ― Borneo Post