BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei topped arrivals into Sarawak last year with a total of 1.3 million entries, according to the Sarawak Tourism Board, averaging to roughly three visits per Bruneian resident.

In the first quarter of 2019, 304,823 visitors from Brunei entered Sarawak, making the sultanate the biggest source of visitors to the eastern Malaysian state.

The favourable currency exchange rate, better shopping and cheaper goods continue to lure Bruneians across the border, spending $1.2 billion in Malaysia in 2017 — almost $3,000 for each person resident in Brunei.

CEO of the Sarawak Tourism Board, Sharzede Datu Hj Salleh Askor, said they are banking on the good exchange rate and relaunch of direct flights from Bandar Seri Begawan to Kuching to drive tourism activity to Sarawak, especially for events such as the Rainforest Fringe Festival, Rainforest World Music Festival, and Borneo Jazz Festival — which all take place this July.

Speaking at the Brunei campaign launch for “Three Festivals, One Destination”, part of the wider “Visit Sarawak” campaign, Sharzede said they are targeting 24,000 festival-goers for the 22nd Rainforest World Music Festival, which will be held at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching from July 12 to 14. 

“As much as we want to increase the numbers of festival goers, we have our carrying capacity of 8,000 a night in our living museum environment. We must observe this to ensure the surroundings are not spoilt,” she said.

The Rainforest Fringe Festival will also take place in Kuching from July 2 to 12, highlighting Sarawak’s arts, handicrafts, heritage, culture and food. 

The tourism chief said the Rainforest World Music Festival generated RM$42 million in revenue last year, with foreigners comprising 40 percent of festival-goers. 

The third festival, the Borneo Jazz Festival, will take place in Miri from July 19 to 21, and will also feature Bruneian hip-hop artist, Zed Peace, who will perform alongside the Borneo Hip Hop collective.

Evelyn Hii, whose company No Black Tie is organising the jazz festival, said they are setting a conservative target of 4,000 festival-goers for the three-day event.

“Bruneians represent the highest percentage of non-Malaysians attending the festival at 35 per cent, while Singaporeans make up 7.5 percent,” she said.