'Hidden Paradise'

Nature and culture ... winning </p> <p>combination.

Sarawak, the largest and the most exotic state in Malaysia, will be wooing Middle East tourists at this month's ATM with its combination of culture, adventure and nature.

The Sarawak Tourism Board says its presence at the ATM is aimed at creating interest in the "Hidden Paradise of Borneo" among Middle East nationals and expatriates resident in the region.

Benedict Jimbau, executive media liaison for the tourist board, said the state will be represented at the ATM for the second year.

"Last year's participation was more on awareness creation and we do receive interest from Middle East visitors that warrants us to take a step forward this year," said Jimbau.

"The increase in focus by tourists on nature-based tourism and eco-tourism provides a bright future for our tourism industry.

"Malaysia's strength is seen in the safety, political stability of the country, friendliness of the people which are our greatest assets. The region holds great interest for the industry as it will continue to focus on nature, culture and exotic tourism."

Jimbau said that despite the cancellation of bookings from tourists, especially from the long haul markets of Europe and the US, "we did not see a slide in our number of foreign arrivals" as the board diverted its efforts and resources to regional and Asian markets.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) is the marketing arm of the Ministry of Tourism Sarawak and was formed in 1995 aimed are marketing Sarawak to the outside world.

"We work closely with our partners including Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines as they have overseas offices while STB doesn't," said Jimbau.

Besides its core products of culture, adventure and nature, Sarawak also offers travellers excellent shopping and beach facilities.

The board has also been aggressively marketing Sarawak as an alternative MICE destination in the region focusing on culture as value-added element to the package.

Jimbau said that Sarawak excels in nature tourism because of its 12 national parks which include the Mulu National Park housing the world's largest cave chamber. The park was declared Malaysia's first Unesco World Heritage Site in 2000 along with neighbouring Sabah state's Kinabalu National Park.

The region offers a range of five-star hotel accommodation and world class resorts.

"Our latest addition to the long list of tourism products available is diving off the northern Sarawak waters. It complements the famous diving sites in neighbouring Sabah," said Jimbau.