4 March 2012
IT is a place of many similarities and diversities. Think of Pontianak as a city in Sarawak or Sabah, but on the other side of the border.
The capital of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, is home to more than four million people.
Amazingly, it offers nearly the same tourism attractions as Sabah and Sarawak when it comes to culture, as Dayaks and Malays make up the majority of its populace with similar food, music and practices.
Yet, Pontianak is also unique. It is one of the few places in the world situated at zero degrees on the equator line when it was recorded by a Dutch geographer 84 years ago.
“We are Equator Asia, and we are very proud of this,” says West Kalimantan district secretary Assoui Hamdi.
There is a monument to mark its unique location. The 84-year-old monument is said to have slightly shifted southwards but based on GPS reading from the actual line and taken every noon between March 21-23 and Sept 23 every year, there are no shadows at the monument.
This debunks any other readings on the GPS and confirms that the monument is still right on zero degrees latitude.
FLIGHT TO PONTIANAK
Pontianak is six hours drive from Kuching while air travel takes 40 minutes. Indonesian airlines such as KalStar Aviation and Batavia Air serve the Kuching-Pontianak route and Malaysia Airlines’ subsidiary, Maswings, has introduced its services in this region.
With Borneo being part of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), Maswings entry into the market serves another connectivity option for Borneo.
“We are connecting Borneo with the world and we provide another option for travellers who wish to go beyond Borneo,” says chief executive officer Datuk Captain Mohd Nawawi Awang.
Maswings began operating the route on Feb 6 and serves 17 flights weekly, compared to daily flights by KalStar Aviation and three times weekly by Batavia Air from Pontianak.
“Our entry to the market has increased the seat capacity to 1,042 a week or 66,052 yearly, so we hope visitors will increase from both side of the border,” says Nawawi.
After two decades of talk between the BIMP-EAGA region leaders, the improved air connectivity can finally tap the 70 million population of potential markets in the region, with Sabah and Sarawak positioning themselves into the market.
Indonesian visitors coming to Kuching showed an eight per cent increase last year with 415,276 compared to 383,710 in the previous year.
After KalStar Aviation operated the route 10 months ago, 4,032 Indonesian visitor arrivals have been recorded at Kuching International Airport.
Indonesians have always been a part of the market segment for Sabah and Sarawak, especially in the education and health sectors.
They have also used air connectivity to the two states as an option to travel to other parts of the world instead of flying into Jakarta.
“More air connectivity will mean increase of business traffic in the region and boost economic growth,” says deputy Transport minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri.
Kalimantan is six times bigger than Java island and still has many untapped potential.
“Aside from our Equator Monument, Singakawang district is also the site of one of the biggest Chap Goh Meh festivals in the world. You won’t find it in China but it’s here in West Kalimantan,” says Hamdi who adds that Pontianak is ready for the influx of visitors and can accommodate 30,000 visitors for a start.
“We admit that we are still young at this, but we are slowly heading towards developing our tourism infrastructure,” he says.
Maswings has prepared a list of new routes for the region, including Labuan, Balikpapan, Ujung Pandang, Davao, Silibus islands and Mindanao by year’s end.
Previously it only served short-haul flights via its ATR 72 aircraft and rural air service via its Twin Otter aircraft in Sabah and Sarawak only.
This new connectivity will not only expand the tourism potential in the region but it would also improve the economic growth of the people here.Issued By: Corporate Communications Department MASwings