Partner Country Feature: Interview with the new CEO of Sarawak Tourism

Sharzede Datu HJ Salleh Askor recently joined Sarawak Tourism as its new Chief Executive Officer. We asked her to tell us about her background and how she arrived back in Kuching.

I have a background in both private and corporate sectors and over 30 years’ experience in the tourism industry. I am also currently pursuing my doctorate in tourism. With the culmination of my working experience and current studies, I can say that I have the knowledge to head the board and the passion to pursue our goals tirelessly.

In terms of my working background, I was previously the general manager of Sunway Group, Group Director of Strategic Planning and Branding of Smascom as well as the Events Director of MINES International Exhibition & Convention Center. Corporate Communications Manager of Country Heights, Assistant Director of Public Relations of Regent Hotel, Public Relations Manager of Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel, the Operations Manager of the Buntal Village Resort and the Project Officer at SEDC Kuching are among other work experiences I under my belt.

As for how I arrived back in Kuching; I was headhunted for the job quite early on and considered accepting, but I put it on hold to focus on my academic pursuit. Now with only the dissertation remaining, I have decided to take on the job and return to Sarawak to contribute to my state and do my “National Service.” It is time for me to give back to my home state and work in the sector I am passionate in.

How important is it to have a “local” in your position? 

Quite important. One of the first questions I get when people meet me is on whether or not I am a Sarawakian. I believe that it is the hope of everyone in Sarawak that whoever holds my position must not only understands the uniqueness and diversity of our cultures, but also appreciate them. And that intimate understanding and acceptance comes best from someone who was born and raised here, in the culture and among the people.

ST recently changed its logo. Why? What are the key aspects of the new logo?

To be clear, Sarawak Tourism has not changed its logo. We have changed our destination logo from the previous Sarawak – Where adventure lives to our current destination logo, Sarawak – More to Discover.

Our reasons for changing our destination logo were to enhance visibility of ‘brand Sarawak’ in the international and domestic markets, to instil into local Sarawakians a sense of ‘belonging’ and ownership towards the tourism attractions in Sarawak, as well as to provide excellent content of tourism products and services.

Sharzede Datu HJ Salleh Askornt 1

Sharzede Datu HJ Salleh Askor

To sum up the key points of the logo; the use of vibrant colours representing the diversity in Sarawak and different natural aspects such as green for the rainforest and blue for the oceans and lakes. The brush strokes are fun and not rigid lines, much like Sarawak which is a very friendly and laid-back place to visit. The centre ‘a’ is, of course, a stylised hornbill representing Sarawak’s moniker of “Land of Hornbills” or ‘Bumi Kenyalang’. It is also a very sacred bird to many of the indigenous people in Sarawak.

What would you say are the three Key “USPs” of Sarawak? 

Our people, our products and our authenticity. We have genuine authenticity with modern comforts that you truly cannot find anywhere else.

What is “new” in terms of tourism infrastructure, transport, etc? 

Much like everywhere else in Sarawak, the attractions are there, they simply need a little organising. Connecting the dots and putting the puzzle pieces together to form a complete picture. The Kuching Heritage Trail is one such attraction, and plans are in the works to make Kuching city’s historical heritage an easily navigated product on its own.

What are your key goals in the short, mid and long term? 

In the short term, visibility is our main goal, and we are looking to put all of our energy on putting Sarawak’s name and brand out there for all to see. In the long term, the state government is looking into tourism very seriously, understanding the value that it brings to the economy, and they have begun to look into ways of improving the infrastructure throughout the state such as in terms of sports facilities, for sports tourism.

What will be the biggest challenges for you in the coming year? 

Connectivity. We will continue to push for better connectivity to Sarawak, be it from other Malaysian states or abroad.

How does it feel to be in this position of being able to promote your state to the world? 

I am honoured and excited to be given the opportunity to put the state of Sarawak on the world map.