Protecting Mount Santubong from a Cable Car Project
According to recent press reports, long-standing plans to build a cable car at Mount Santubong have been revived. This is a matter of great concern for both residents of the wider Kuching area and Sarawak’s tourism industry. Mount Santubong is a special place and a unique tourism and recreational asset.
The rainforest-covered mountain is steeped in legend and a source of enjoyment for Sarawakians of all ages and backgrounds. There is therefore a strong public feeling that Santubong should be preserved in its natural state. In short, stakeholders do not want a cable car to be developed at Santubong. This ground swell is based on the following factors.
1. Lack of Commercial Viability - We believe there is insufficient demand from both foreign and domestic tourists to justify the substantial investment in this project. Upon opening, the facility may attract local interest but this domestic demand will taper off after the novelty wears off. Demand from foreign tourists is unlikely to cover operational costs.
2. Negative Impact on Tourism Industry - Mount Santubong forms a magnificent backdrop to the resort hotels at Damai Beach, the Sarawak Cultural Village and Sarawak’s only internationally known event – the Rainforest World Music Festival. Adding cables, large support pillars and significant modifications at the summit will degrade the current views. In addition a range of activities such as wildlife watching, jungle trekking, the Summit Climb, mountain biking, etc. will all be negatively impacted by the cable car.
3. Alternative Investment Options - There are more suitable options for growing Sarawak’s tourism industry. From a strategic perspective, Sarawak is better off investing in our existing major attractions (e.g. Bako National Park) rather than investing in new projects that lack commercial viability.
4. Ecological Damage - The summit is a narrow sandstone ridge. It would require extensive modification to support the cables, gondolas, machinery, lookout points, offices, toilets, shops, etc. It is impossible for any contractor to construct a cable car system without causing substantial damage on the summit and at the locations of each of the pillars.
5. Social and Ecological Costs - The social and ecological costs are likely to outweigh the financial benefits (if any) of investing in a cable car project. The cable car project offers a poor return on investment for Sarawak.
6. Safety & Maintenance Concerns – Should the cable car project fail to be profitable the operators may fail to invest sufficiently in maintenance and safety compliance. The potential negative consequences of this are unthinkable for Sarawak’s tourism industry and public safety.
In view of the above concerns regarding the development of a cable car at Santubong, we are petitioning for a complete ban any form of cable car on the Santubong Peninsula and Mount Santubong.
Protecting Mount Santubong from a Cable Car
The news, both publicly and privately, of the plans to build a cable car to the summit of Mt Santubong is a matter of great consternation. We the citizens of Kuching and visitors to this city who have visited and frequent the Santubong peninsula feel strongly that the mountain should be preserved as it is, in its original state.
We have listed below reasons for the crafting of this petition that reflect the expected and unwanted outcomes. It is our consensus that the construction of a cable car on Santubong would have severe negative impacts on the experiences of those walking the tracks and climbing the mountain as well as those who drive by, cycle by or sail into Kuching’s waters. We strongly feel that not all places need to be accessible by machine. We also feel that there are other more suitable options for growing the tourism industry and inviting foreign investment to the area.
At a time when being Green and Eco-friendly is a draw card (foreseeably indefinitely until climate change is reversed or stopped) we should not be diminishing what significant advantages we have in that respect. A relatively pristine, rainforest covered mountain steeped in legend and history, so close to a city and by the sea is a distinct advantage. It can differentiate us greatly from other destinations if promoted correctly and managed with care. It is also a major asset as a recreational area for people living in Kuching and an added reason to migrate to Kuching for expatriates seeking a second or new home. In short, it is a source of enjoyment, as it is, for people of all ages, religions and backgrounds.
We have listed below our concerns pertaining to the proposed cable car and below that, suggestions on how we would prefer to see how Mt Santubong managed and cared for. We hope that you will read through them carefully and consider them with weight.
The primary concerns with the construction of a cable car are:
1. Ecological damage - The summit is narrow and consists of sandstone. It will need extensive modification to build anything to hold the weight and size of the cables and gondolas as well as the lookout point, machinery, toilets, office, shops, etc. and this would very easily result in its destruction. It is completely unlikely that any contractor is able to construct a cable car without causing substantial damage not only on the summit but also at the locations of each of the pillars. This will scare off and limit the chances of seeing wildlife in the area, which includes hornbills and proboscis monkeys, animals that are synonymous with Sarawak.
2. Aesthetically damaging - It will expectedly be unsightly on what is a beautiful and majestic, natural landmark of Kuching. An impressively steep mountain covered in rainforest only 30km outside of a major, modern city. It forms a magnificent backdrop to the hotels and the Sarawak Cultural Village. Adding a length of cables, whatever changes that will be made to the summit and the large support pillars that will be put up along the way to the summit, we cannot imagine this will improve the current view. It is the landmark of the City of Kuching and Damai area.
3. Losing the long-term competitive advantage in the ecotourism industry – Ecotourism is the fastest growing niche in the global tourism market. With Mt Santubong in its current, undisturbed state it is an advantage to the industry that needs minor improvements, which are stated below in this letter, to enhance visitor’s experiences and help our tourism industry compete with neighbouring states and countries.
4. Viability - We believe that we do not yet have the critical mass in the domestic population or visitors to financially justify this project with its predictably long term ROI that is unlikely to be achievable. Thus the possibility of it being financially viable is highly questionable beyond the first year of operation once its novelty has worn off and the damage and investment would have been for naught. Even if it by some slim chance it becomes financially viable the social and ecological cost will far outweigh the financial benefits of the project.
5. Safety – Should it begin to operate at a loss or break-even, will the operators be able to place sufficient investment into maintaining it and ensuring its safety is in compliance with international standards?
6. Burden on the State – When the project is no longer self-sustaining, we are concerned that the state will have to bear the burden of ensuring its safe operation or the work of dismantling it.
What we would like to see:
1. Greater protection of the area against illegal logging, poaching and further undesirable construction or land use.
2. Regular maintenance and safety inspections of the rope ladders, bridges and routes of the walks on the mountain.
3. Education and awareness programmes for walkers to address the problem of littering.
4. More information about the flora & fauna, the geology, the history and culture of Santubong readily available.
5. Active research and conservation steps be taken to encourage Hornbill breeding and natural sightings of this impressive bird, the symbol of our states identity.
We understand the need to have growth and appreciate the government’s attempt to stimulate the economy. Should the government feel that a cable car is quintessential in boosting tourism we recommend Mt Serapi as the ideal alternative to Santubong. The reasons for this are as follows:
• It is higher and larger than Mt Santubong’s summit.
• The Serapi has already been disturbed and built upon.
• The area around the foot of the mountain is also larger and disturbed so further construction will not be causing any further harm.
• It allows for view of the city, the sea and the western areas of Kubah National Park and Matang Wildlife Centre.
• This would position Santubong as an area for walkers and develop the experience in adherence to pure ecotourism principals providing a variety in the protected areas around Kuching.
At a time when globalization is reaching into and influencing every community and culture at a blinding speed, some socially significant sites should be preserved intact for no other reason than it is significant and provides a 'sense of place', a sociologically recognised critical aspect of a person’s identity, culture and life. To do so requires respect and value for the intangible that which has yet to be measured scientifically or valued economically and Santubong is without doubt one such place. In the hearts and minds of the people of Kuching and those who visit Santubong and return year after year, it is a special place.
We do not believe that any potential financial benefits that may arise from the presence of a cable car can outweigh the social and ecological loss that will be incurred.
We hereby petition for the banning of any form of cable car on the Santubong Peninsula and its mountain. We also request for greater protection of the mountain, the national park, the forest and both within and outside the boundary of the national park, as well as the historical and archeological sites of the Santubong Peninsula.