STF wants aviation policy and tourism strategy
by Eve Sonary Heng. Borneo Post October 6, 2011, ThursdayKUCHING: The Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) is sending a memorandum to the state government requesting it to formulate a formal aviation policy and strategy in order to protect the state’s economic interests, especially in the tourism sector.
Its president Audry Wan Ullok said they were also requesting the state government to seriously consider setting up a new airline to serve the needs of the state, in view of Sarawak’s poor air connectivity and the possible emergence of a domestic airline cartel that prioritises services focused on Peninsular Malaysia.
“The state government could take a controlling interest in a new airline and seek an established airline operator as a joint venture partner to manage the new Sarawak-based airline.
“In view of our geographical location, air accessibility and connectivity is vital for Sarawak in the areas of trade, travel and tourism. Moreover, it serves to promote national integration as well as having important social function to reunite families, within and outside of Sarawak,” she told a press conference yesterday.
The announcement of a share swap between Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia had resulted in a somewhat secretive route rationalisation exercise.
This exercise took place with limited communication from both MAS and AirAsia, and it had resulted in the cancellation of flights by MAS, and is expected to result in the termination of services of Firely at the end of this month, she pointed out.
She expressed concern about the consequences of the share swap, apart from the major inconvenience to travellers, adding they also forwarded a memorandum to both MAS and the federal government to express their concerns.
She said STF also felt that the abrupt cancellation of flights and the lack of communication from MAS and its subsidiaries were creating uncertainty in the marketplace.
“The current silence from MAS is damaging MAS’s reputation and negatively impacting Sarawak’s tourism industry. MAS must start to communicate and engage with the tourism industry and its customers and issue regular statements and updates.
“So far we have not seen any official statements from MAS and AirAsia yet,” she said, adding without improved air access, all the money spent on marketing by Sarawak Tourism Board, Sarawak Convention Bureau and the private sector will come to nothing.
Audry said in the past, competition between MAS and its subsidiaries on the one hand and AirAsia had been good for consumers in east Malaysia, and resulted in cheaper airfares and increased flights to destinations in Sarawak.
As a result, air arrivals to Sarawak increased significantly. With the expected demise of Firely, she said they were concerned that AirAsia would have a monopoly over the domestic low-cost segment.
“In light of recent developments, we are seeking assurances from the federal government that the MAS and AirAsia share swap will not result in a domestic airline cartel and that the rights of consumers will be protected.
“We believe that the end result of the route rationalisation exercise will be reduced frequencies and air connectivity to Sarawak. We are asking the federal government to outline what measures they intend to take to improve Sarawak’s air connectivity,” she pointed out.
Honorary secretary general Philip Yong, who also spoke at the press conference, said there was a need for the state government to review aviation policy as currently there was no proper policy, and hoped that the private sector would be called in to draw up the policy.
“We are sending a memorandum to the state government asking them to formulate a policy first, from there we can include strengthening of domestic flights within, connectivity from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, and from Kuala Lumpur to other cities, and in Sarawak as well.
“We feel that the federal side is not really taking us into consideration, this is our main concern.
“The negative impact that we are now experiencing as a consequence of the share swap between MAS and AirAsia has made us feel that federal authorities had not given sufficient attention to the aviation needs of Sarawak,” he said.
He said the cancellation of flights by MAS and Air Asia had create uncertaintanty in the market place, and had affected travel agencies a lot.
Also present were Malaysia Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) chairman Matthew Chen, Sarawak Tourism Federation advisor Lim Kian Hock, Sarawak Tourism Board member Donald Tan, and managing director of Borneo Transverse Tours and Travel Sdn Bhd Adam Lim.
Biro Ekonomi Pemuda PBB first raised the issue for Sarawak in August 2011