Located in the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo (officially called East Malaysia), Kuching is a picturesque, friendly city set beside the winding Sarawak River. Visitors should not be fooled by the becalming ambience, however. Kuching, which means ‘cat’ in Malay, is proving to be a true Asian Tiger. Its excellent infrastructure includes the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK), an international airport and numerous delegate-friendly dining and entertainment facilities. The city has also announced a raft of urban improvement projects, including a commemorative Golden Bridge across the river, a new Catamaran river cruise service, while new cultural attractions such as a museum to commemorate the legacy of Sarawak’s state capital are also in the pipeline.
Kuching’s signature USP, however, is being the gateway to the beguiling landscapes of Borneo, the world’s third largest island. Borneo is blessed with pristine rainforests, soaring limestone caves and untouched sandy coves, plus numerous indigenous cultures, affording numerous opportunities for soft adventure, such as hiking, caving, kayaking, and river fishing, plus interactive activities with tribal communities and Borneo’s diverse animal and plant life. As a result, Kuching is making waves as a destination for incentives and teambuilding trips.
Kuching is also flexing its muscles to attract high-profile regional and international conventions, and much of the credit is attributed to the BCCK – the first dedicated convention and exhibition centre in Borneo – which opened in 2009. Philip Yong, managing director of tour group Borneo Adventure says: “It is an excellent facility that enables Kuching to host large events that were previously not possible.” In 2014, BCCK will host the ASEAN Tourism Forum and the annual Routes Asia conference, which convenes major players from the Asian and European airline and airport industries. Perhaps its highest profile bid win came in May, when it beat the Czech capital Prague to host the 2016 International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) General Assembly. Kuching will take up the mantle for the five-day event, which gathers together around 700 global business events professionals from the 2015 host city, Buenos Aires.
“Kuching stood out in terms of presenting themselves as a role model and inspiration for other second-tier cities. They are now regularly winning prestigious international congresses in a wide variety of fields,” says Arnaldo Nardone, president of the Amsterdam-based ICCA, which boasts members in 88 countries.
Nardone makes an interesting point, as Kuching is positioning itself to compete with larger, more established Asian cities through its “Where business meets adventure” approach. The purpose is to differentiate Kuching by highlighting the diverse and unique elements of adventure and exploration on the city’s doorstep.
“Clients in Asia, and worldwide, are seeking fresh destinations that are less about “big city” attractions. Increasingly, they are also looking for strong corporate social responsibility and community-based activities that add extra value to a convention or meeting,” says Chew Chang Guan, general manager of the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB).
Located in pristine rainforest 35 kilometres from Kuching at the foot of the mystical Mount Santubong and adjacent to the beautiful Damai beach, the Sarawak Cultural Village is a living museum showcasing traditional Sarawak lifestyles and cuisines. It also hosts the annual Rainforest World Music Festival, one of Southeast Asia’s most highly regarded musical events.
The village features several meetings venues. The most intriguing for small groups is the Tea Garden, which is located beside a jungle waterfall and accessed by an elevated wooden walkway. Guests can sip locally grown teas and sample Sarawakian cuisine such as laksa Sarawak and sautéed prawn with durian paste while enjoying cultural performances and folk songs. Delegates can then interact with the natural habitat by following the one-hour Penan Nature Trail through the jungle to glimpse macaques, otters, wild lizards and myriad bird species, and try their hands at ancient tribal practices like blowpipe shooting.
Delegates visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village can combine jungle adventure with a stay at the nearby Damai Beach Resort. Located where the tropical rainforest meets the South China Sea, this modern resort overlooks a private sandy beach and is set against the picturesque backdrop of the forested Mount Santubong, which is popular with trekkers. An experienced venue for business meetings and events, the resort boasts a large beachfront pool terrace for cocktail parties and receptions, and will open a new seafront ballroom capable of seating 600 people in late 2014.
“We’ve hosted several themed events, including a Borneo Jungle Night, where we transformed the ballroom into a virtual jungle, complete with a bridge and waterfall features but minus the humidity and mosquitoes, enabling guests to dine in comfort,” says Zulkifli Othman, general manager of Damai Beach Resort. “Recently, we organised the Damai Food Festival, and invited all the popular vendors from Kuching and the Santubong area to promote local delicacies. This event is part of our annual
CSR programme,” he adds.
Sunset cruises along the Sarawak River are a popular pastime for event delegates in Kuching. The experience was upgraded in September with the launch of the Catamaran Cruise. Based on river taxis used in Brisbane, the 75-seat cruiser ferries tourists and convention delegates from the Kuching waterfront to venues including a new jetty at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching and Medan Niaga Satok at Kubah Ria. Owned by the Sarawak Tourism Board, the catamaran is also available to hire for private onboard receptions.
A GOLDEN FUTURE
Kuching recently announced the construction of an S-shaped Golden Bridge, to commemorate Sarawak’s 50th Golden Jubilee since gaining independence from British rule. Spanning the Sarawak River, and due to be completed in 2015, the 400-metre bridge is inspired by the meandering curves of the river, and will feature a web of angled wires reminiscent of a traditional Bidayuh bamboo bridge. Two viewing decks will enable pedestrians to enjoy panoramic views of Kuching and the riverside Malay villages. In addition to becoming a major tourist attraction, the bridge will be used as a unique venue for cocktail parties and themed events – and is yet another reason for planners to consider Kuching.
CSR in Sarawak
The natural habitats around Kuching offer event planners plenty of options for community-based initiatives and conservation programmes that enable delegates to interact with local Sarawakians.
“We help events groups create socially responsible activities from scratch, such as being part of a longhouse community or a remote village and working with local people to construct much-needed facilities, such as medical clinics, schools or bridges,” says Mike Cannon, managing director of Sarawak Convention Bureau. “Participants also get to learn about paddy planting, how to fish with bamboo traps, create a personal masterpiece of local arts and crafts, and take part in traditional music, games and dance.”
Other CSR options close to Kuching, which can be incorporated into a convention programme or as a pre- and post-tour option for partners and families, include orangutan visits, swiftlet conservation, and outreach programmes to local villages.
Many delegates will appreciate the chance to get up close and personal with orangutans, this rare and much-loved icon of the rainforest. Small teams get down and dirty with a park ranger at the Matang Wildlife Centre, which rehabilitates orphaned and rescued orangutans, followed by a visit to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, where older orangutans live semi-wild in the jungle.
Edible swiftlet nests have been part of Sarawak culture for centuries, but the species almost became extinct from over-harvesting. Recent conservation efforts have proved successful, and this educational programme showcases sustainable swiftlet management in action. Delegates get to walk through a limestone forest, explore the caves where the birds nest, and learn about the history of bird’s nest trading.
Planners can also link up with NGO Habitat For Humanity, which encourages events teams to become part of a traditional Sarawakian ‘longhouse’ community by taking part in the building of medical clinics, school buildings and other essential facilities in poor rural villages.
Centrally located adjacent to a shopping mall on Jalan Mathies, the 389-room Pullman Kuching offers great panoramas of the city and Sarawak River. It features a large Banquet Hall and 3,660 sqm of banquet and conferencing facilities. The 1,615 sqm Ballroom can accommodate up to 1,500 people for a sit-down banquet and 3,000 people for a cocktail reception. Nine other meeting rooms are fully equipped with high-tech facilities.
Hilton Kuching Hotel
An established feature of the Kuching waterfront, the 315-room Hilton Kuching is popular with business events groups. The 489 sqm Ballroom can host up to 750 people, and there are nine other meeting and function rooms for smaller groups. There’s also an outdoor events terrace for dancing under the stars and a 25-metre outdoor pool with a bar and cafe for relaxed cocktails.
Located on the Sarawak Riverside in the heart of Kuching, this 241-room hotel caters to a broad range of business events and weddings. The 18th floor features seven meeting suites, while the Sarawak Chamber ballroom can seat up to 900 guests in a banquet style or 1,400 in a theatre set up.
Borneo Highlands Resort
Set amid lush rainforest 1,000 metres above sea level in the Penrissen Range, this characterful 30-room resort is an alternative location for executive meetings and brainstorming away-breaks. The two meeting suites each have a capacity for 40 delegates, Anais Rais restaurant serves organic dishes, the Jungle Spa is truly enchanting, while the Hornbill Golf Course is recognised as one of Malaysia’s most scenic.
Bar by the Batik
The hip, 15-room Batik Boutique hotel in the centre of Kuching features a small courtyard bar that’s perfect for intimate cocktail receptions and post-conference drinks. The beer is served ice cold, and the bar tender mixes a mean tuak margarita, made with tuak, a native Sarawakian tribal spirit with a flavour that is similar to Chinese rice wine.
ACCESS Located 11km south of the city, Kuching International Airport is the main gateway to the myriad attractions of Sarawak. Direct flights link Kuching with both Kuala and Singapore.
CLIMATE The Equator cuts through Borneo around 100km south of Sarawak meaning high humidity and tropical rain showers can be expected year-round, although there are two seasons. November to March is rainy while April to October is drier.
Languages Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is the official language, though English is widely spoken, as are Mandarin, Hokkien and numerous ethnic dialects.
Visas Most nationalities do not require a visa for social or simple business visits. For more information, visit: imi.gov.my/index.php/en
Currency Like the rest of Malaysia,Sarawak’s currency is the Malaysian Ringgit.