Challenging year for Sabah tourism

Sabah’s tourism industry is set to have a challenging year following Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS)’ decision to cancel direct flights to Osaka, Perth, Haneda and Incheon this year.

With no more direct flights from Sabah to Japan and Western Australia, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry has to look at alternative plans to ensure a positive growth in the tourist arrivals to the state.

The ministry will focus on main markets that have the flight capacity and at the same time continue to work together as well as support aviation companies so that they will consider increasing their flights to Sabah or maybe consider providing charter flights to the state, its assistant minister, Datuk Bolkiah Ismail, said.

Bolkiah added that Tourism Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun went on a working visit to South Korea in October last year to meet with travel agents and aviation companies there with the aim to improve the frequency of the Seoul-Kota Kinabalu route.

“Two airlines based in South Korea have indicated their interest to start a charter flight schedule to Sabah and it all goes well, they are expected to start servicing the route in April and July respectively,” he said.

Bolkiah also said that South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR) would be flying from Clark, Philippines to Kota Kinabalu on May 1 this year with three flights a week.

The Philippines market had high potential in areas like MICE, shopping, leisure and education, he said, adding that the ministry had also identified five regional airports to play the role as ‘feeder’ for Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).

These airports are on Kuala Lumpur, Brunei, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Sabah Tourism Board is also working with the airlines in these airports such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Royal Brunei Airlines to continue promoting holiday packages to Sabah in order to attract more travellers from Japan and Australia.

According to Bolkiah, in 2011, a total of 2,844,597 tourists had visited Sabah and generated a total of RM4.977 billion in tourism receipts.

“This was an increase of 13.6 per cent in tourist arrivals when compared to the previous year,” he said and disclosed that of the total, 1,998,687 were domestic visitors while the remaining 845,910 were from overseas.

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