KUCHING: Sarawak will be directly connected with Hong Kong via air beginning April 2016 following the inking of an official agreement on the move.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and Hong Kong Airlines here yesterday.
The board was represented by its chief executive officer Datu Ik Pahon Joyik, who is also permanent secretary to the Tourism Ministry, while the airline company was represented by its strategy and planning commercial department manager Andre Zhang.
For the record, Hong Kong Airlines is a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines Ltd.
Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, who witnessed the ceremony, said under the MOU, Hong Kong Airlines would fly passengers on board its 174-seat A320 flight via the Hong Kong-Kuching-Hong Kong route twice weekly.
As part of the agreement, the minister also said STB would provide incentives and support as part of the airline’s request to ensure sustainability of this route.
“On this endeavour, Tourism Malaysia and Malaysian Airports Holdings Bhs (MAHB) will also offer incentives, apart from STB. The initial agreement outlined the route to be flown between Hong Kong and Kuching on Wednesdays and Sundays, with the time slots to be determined by the airline based on market demands and also the approval by the Hong Kong government,” he said.
Abang Johari also stressed that while Hong Kong Airlines would be responsible for flight operations, aircraft maintenance, safety and security, STB would be in charge of the sustainability of the route.
On this, he said a series of market introduction on the destinations, namely Hong Kong and cities across Southern China, would be planned as part of the marketing plans associated with the route.
“These (programmes) will include road shows in the identified cities, business sessions with Hong Kong Airlines officials and travel agents currently selling Malaysia in China’s southern region — all of which will be followed up by familiarisation trips.
“We will also further promote interesting tourism products that we have through various tools, such as the creation of media awareness and advertising by means of digital, online and print (channels).
Direct flight drives tourist arrivals from China
“In ensuring the sustainability of the flights, the board will leverage on STF (Sarawak Tourism Federation) and Matta (Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents) Sarawak to facilitate partnerships with Sarawak’s outbound agents in ensuring that the seats for the outbound leg would be equally attended to. In addition, STB will also engage agents in Pontianak (West Kalimantan) to create awareness of this direct (Hong Kong-Kuching) flight, tapping into passengers from West Kalimantan to fly the route.”
Abang Johari added that the Tourism Malaysia office in Hong Kong and Guangzhou would be engaged and syndicated to leverage on their market presence, towards ensuring that the state’s marketing interest would be monitored and coordinated and at the same time, assisting in the marketing of the airline’s flight that connects with Sarawak.
Abang Johari, who is also Housing Minister, said the direct flight connectivity should be able to drive tourist arrivals from China, where the realistic figure of 80 per cent would be possible early indicators of the success of this initiative.
“We feel that this initiative would benefit us a lot as it would provide greater convenience to travellers, especially those coming here for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events because by taking direct flights from Hong Kong, they would go through only one immigration check.
“So with the direct flight later on, we are fully confident that we would be able to bring in more visitors to the state.”
The MOU signing was also witnessed by Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip, and Chinese Consul General in Kuching Liu Quan.