Flights cut to hit Sabah tourism


KOTA KINABALU: The latest decision by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to suspend four routes involving Sabah regional network early next year will have a short-term negative impact on tourist arrivals in Sabah, said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He said the state tourism industry will take some time to realign its marketing strategy and priority.

Masidi, who revealed his Ministry was aware of MAS’ impending move to suspend these routes as they have had a series of high level meetings with MAS management to discuss the issue and to appeal to them not to proceed with this drastic move, said they are nevertheless “not going to cry over spilled milk”.

“We are moving on. We have in fact started strategising our next moves to overcome this latest challenge and believe that this MAS episode would be a temporary setback,” he said.

MAS announced on Thursday that the suspension of the four routes is in addition to its rationalisation exercise involving eight routes of its international network announced last week.

The four routes and dates the suspensions take effect are twice-weekly Kota Kinabalu-Osaka return B737 route (January 6, 2012); thrice-weekly Kota Kinabalu-Perth return B737 route (January 31, 2012); four times weekly Kota Kinabalu-Haneda (Tokyo) return B737 route (February 1, 2012) and four times weekly Kota Kinabalu-Seoul return B737 route (February 21, 2012).

MAS Group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said: “This suspension is until further notice and is part of our regional network consolidation

involving single-aisle aircraft operations.

“We will be reviewing this situation in about three months time from the date of the first route suspension and will be deciding further by early April 2012”

“During the suspension, we will take advantage of our existing code-share operations with Korean Air to provide direct connectivity between Sabah and South Korea using the Korean carrier’s Seoul-Kota Kinabalu return direct flights.

“We will also continue offering direct international connectivity to Kota Kinabalu through our existing daily B737 flights from Hong Kong and Taipei.

“In addition we will also use our existing 86 weekly flights between Sabah and KL International Airport (KLIA) to provide immediate connections for passengers who prefer full service flights between Sabah and the cities of Perth, Tokyo, and Osaka,” he added.

Ahmad Jauhari said MAS will honour all forward bookings ticketed to date on the affected routes.

“Where necessary, the company will make alternative carrier arrangements, at its own cost, to ensure minimum discomfort to passengers.

As for the Sandakan-Kuala Lumpur operations, Malaysia Airlines will continue to offer this connectivity via Kota Kinabalu, 22 times weekly from Sandakan and 25 times weekly from Kuala Lumpur, using both its daily B737 flights and daily MASwings ATR services currently operating between Sandakan and the Sabah capital city.

According to Masidi, as an alternative to routes cutting, his Ministry through the Sabah Tourism had offered to assist MAS to improve their passenger load from these destinations, as MAS has blamed low passenger load for its operational losses.

“Unfortunately the current financial health of the national airline may be very serious to warrant termination of many of its regional and international routes.

“I was made to understand that MAS current financial standing has severely affected its capacity to continue mounting flights to these loss-making destinations,” he said.

Masidi said the tourism industry in Sabah is strong and united in facing together this challenging situation.

“We are reviewing all options, including talking to other airlines to ensure that the tourism industry in Sabah continues to flourish.

“We are also looking at other regional destinations with good air connectivity to Sabah to bring in more tourists to the state so that not only tourist arrival rate in Sabah is sustainable but would continue its upward trend.”

“Sabah is blessed with so many natural wonders and that alone would continue to lure foreign visitors to the State,” he said.