By Anthony Dylan
The Kuching International Airport has sprung back to life in my last visit back home. I made a visit back in November and December of 2021 and in March and June 2022. The changes are quite dramatic.
The first one in November last year and subsequently for December 2021 was via KLIA and KLIA2, respectively. There were not many flights back to Kuching from KL then. The airport at KLIA was relatively so quiet. It was as if that the entire world stood still. It was strange walking in an airport known to be buzzing before the pandemic to one which was eerily near pin drop silent. The same could be said for KLIA2 when we flew back in December.
The Kuching International airport had a mandatory check point for the Enter Sarawak application. Those who have their green status would be let through as the required approvals have been confirmed beforehand. This type of entry was less strict compared with those who went back in September. They would have to provide their RT PCR test results and police permit to apply for the entry permit. That was also in addition to the MySejahtera requirement.
The entry in March was near back to normal but still with the required declaration of the Enter Sarawak application. This was rescinded from 1 April 2022. Since then, the trip back in June was a step closer to pre pandemic.
The last trip allowed me to finish off the AirAsia credits which they owed due to the no-fly season. We did not want to risk the value paid before, so it was best to use the credits up. In June, the KLIA 2 airport retail was back to normal. You could see people flocking Starbucks and Family Mart. Upon landing, AirAsia surprised me with a system of disembarkation of 5 rows at a time where the other passengers must sit while waiting their turn. Strangely, this was only done at the Kuching International Airport but not, at KLIA2 when disembarking. Inconsistency is still the consistent mantra of AirAsia.
The domestic tourism already showed some form of comeback when I was back in Kuching. I could see domestic tourists and domiciled expats doing the typical touristy activities. The Sarawak Tourism Board has also quickly rolled out their plans which were ready immediately from 1 April 2022. As the endemic phase was also at the same time, many have returned to the local tourism industry. Hotels had started recruiting again.
The rooms which were relatively empty had to be cleaned up and the sheets refreshed. The kitchens had to be fired up again and a range of preparations were sped up to clear all the cobwebs and overgrown landscaping. The rush on reinstating the world-renowned Rainforest World Music Festival culminated in a successful 25th anniversary edition. Whilst the content was not as good as one could expect with better planning and timing, nevertheless; it was a huge achievement to do so in such a short space of time from 1 April 2022 till Day one of 17th June 2022.
Held over 3 days; it featured 60 performers from 20 countries. It also achieved the target of 12,000 visitors where 90% were locals and the balance were foreigners as reported: mainly from Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Australia, Spain, Russia and United Kingdom. This festival was themed ‘The Legendary Rainforest Festival’ and included a hybrid virtual option. This virtual hybrid was also a first. According to reports, the virtual concert was sold mainly to people in China, Sweden and United States of America. The average number of visitors of previous 3-day long pre pandemic festivals since 1998 was 20,000.
Sarawak also restarted the 17th edition of the Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri from the 24 till the 25 June 2022. It was incepted in 2006 and this year, the theme was ‘Jazz in the Jungle’. While the Rainforest World Music Festival is held at the foot of Mount Santubong within the Cultural Village; the Borneo Jazz Festival is held at the sea front of Coco Cabana.
In Kuching, the local council MBKS also organized the “Gawai Bazaar Festival” from 17 till 26 June 2022 at their grounds. It had 200 stalls where 100 consisted of non halal products and 50 halal products. The balance 50 were for arts and crafts.
Very soon, from 29 July till 31 August, Kuching will welcome back the “Kuching Festival Food Fair” after a 2-year hiatus. The theme this year is ‘Kuching’s Best Creative Food and Culture.’ It targets 250 food stalls and 500,000 visitors over the whole period. The venue would be at the local council, MBKS’ grounds.
If you think there are no more festivals, let me tell you this. Do look forward to the “Borneo Music Festival Live 2022” which is being planned for the same venue as the Rainforest World Music Festival from 9 to 10 September 2022. This festival is only for those from 18 years and above. The headliners include Alan Walker, DJ Soda, Nicole Chen, Priscilla Abby, DJ Venom – C, DJ Ice-Cream and DJ Chaka. For those who love Country Music, there would be one in Miri from 25 to 26 November 2022. This would be held at the Eastwood Valley Golf and Country Club.
The Sarawak Trade and Tourism Office in Singapore (STATOS) has also begun in earnest with promoting Sarawak. With Scoot now flying back in from Singapore, this would add to more tourism opportunities.
As I bade goodbye in my last trip in June; I noticed that the Kuching International Airport has also begun with improvements to their retail offerings. The humble international airport would soon need to expand as their current baggage claim has only two belts as tourism heats up.
A visit to Kuching would give you more than just the festivals. I have not yet even begun with the newest and arguably the most innovative Borneo Cultures Museum which could rival the global best. I have not even begun with the Sarawak Laksa, Belachan Bee Hoon, Sio Bee, Kway Chap, Kolok Mee, Sup Sapi, Lei Cha and charcoal cooked porridge.
That would be one for the future.