The tourism tax issue unexpectedly puts the Sarawak BN on the same side as the opposition parties for the first time. Along with the general public, it seems that all fingers are now pointed at the tourism minister and federal government.
This seems to have departed from the original question whether tourism tax should be imposed.
The new issue now is: A West Malaysian minister is bullying a Sarawak minister, and the unfair federal “hegemony” towards Sarawak.
That brings to life again the Sarawakian sentiment.
To be honest, I personally feel that the tourism tax issue per se is not serious after all, as it has never generated any controversy in other states. But the thing is, this issue is now twice as big, having been elevated to the same level as Sarawak’s autonomy. With the by-election in Miri just around the corner, the issue is expected to be lifted further to a whole new level.
The arrogant and often erratic Mohd Nazri has helped inflate the issue by choosing the wrong timing to play with the fire.
Talking about tourism tax, I would be equally unhappy if I were a Sarawakian. Even though I am not a Sarawakian, I can understand why Sarawakians are unhappy.
They may want to ask what the federal government has done to the state’s tourism all these years.
My colleague told me the federal government allocation for Sarawak’s tourism is “zero”, and the tourism ministry hardly promotes the state overseas, not to mention the fact that international flights to major tourist destinations in the state are scarce and these attractions are rarely visited.
And since the federal government has not contributed anything to the state’s tourism, why should it impose tourism tax in the state?
Which I think is justifiable.
I have visited Miri a number of times. The city is actually very well endowed with rich tourism resources, some at truly world-class levels.
From Miri you can travel to Mulu National Park, a real paradise for eco-tourism fans and adventurers. A Unesco natural heritage site, it boasts the world’s largest cave and rare stone forests.
Also on Unesco’s heritage list are Georgetown, Melaka and Mount Kinabalu National Park Everyone has been to Penang and Melaka, and many have visited Mount Kinabalu as well. But, how many have actually set their feet on Mulu?
In addition to Mulu, Miri is also known for the fabled Blue Tears and Horse Rock at Tusan beach. Appearing at specific times of the year and can be seen only at four other locations worldwide, the rare blue tears phenomenon is caused by fluorescent algae. As for the Horse Rock, it is a large natural rock formation that juts into the sea like a horse lowering its head to drink water, a unique sight that rivals the Elephant Trunk Hill in China’s Guilin.
When I was there, the only “tourist facilities” available were a simple toilet, several wooden benches and a few stalls. The Malay female peddler doubled up as my tour guide.
While marveling at the breathtaking beauty, I nevertheless felt sorry for the lack of visitors there.
And then we have the Niah Cave prehistoric site which makes a perfect museum of natural history. Further afield is the Bario Highlands.
All these can be reached from Miri, Sarawak, but have you seen them yourselves?
My city councilor friend told me Miri put in a lot of effort to become a tourist city, but this wouldn’t happen in the absence of fiscal allocations.
Miri is hard hit by the depressed oil & gas sector and is now pinning its hopes on tourism to revitalize its economy. But without the necessary infrastructure, transportation and marketing, the world-class beauty will not be enjoyed by admirers from across the world.
As tourism minister, Nazri is often seen dressed like a seasoned traveler moving around the globe. I have no idea whether he knows how pathetic our own world-class attractions are.
If he knew, he should have been able to understand what Sarawakians had expected from him. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to understand their feelings.
The spat has brought out the fact of inequitable distribution of the country’s tourism resources, and Nazri’s arrogance is perceived by Sarawakians as bullyism that characterizes the federal government.