KOTA KINABALU: Less than 10 chartered flights from China are heading for Sabah this Chinese New Year, marking a drastic drop compared to previous years.
To date, only four chartered flights from Chengdu of Sichuan Province, two from Changsha of Hunan Province and three from Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province have confirmed coming to the State during the Chinese festive season.
Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming admitted that the number of chartered flights this year was much less than before, given that there were 120 chartered flights to Sabah last year and 268 flights in 2013.
He said free independent travelers (FIT) from China were returning to Sabah but the number of tour groups was still lagging behind, especially chartered flights.
Pang said the potential for chartered flights was huge because not many airlines would consider providing scheduled flights to Sabah as the Chinese were seasonal travelers.
“For airlines to mount direct flight is a long shot because the Chinese are seasonal travelers. They only come (to Sabah) during Chinese New Year, National Day holidays and long holidays between June and August.
“So to rely on scheduled flights, I don’t think many airlines will consider it,” Pang said in a press conference to announce the formation of Sabah Tourism Federation (STF) here yesterday.
On the other hand, Pang, who is tasked with overseeing the Chinese market, welcomed the arrival of Chen Peijie, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu.
“I believe her arrival will have a big impact on tourist arrivals from China.”
Pang said the setting up of a Chinese consulate here showed the good relations between Malaysia, in particular Sabah, and China.
“Our ministry will work closely with her (Chen) to ensure Chinese tourists return to Sabah very soon,”he pledged.
Meanwhile, STF pro-tem president Dato’Seri Winston Liaw said he had news that the outbound chartered flights from China to Thailand had soared to 890 flights this year, which was close to four times of the total 250 chartered flights to Thailand last year.
While Liaw was uncertain whether the jump in chartered flights to Thailand was due to free visas for Chinese tourists, he hoped that the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment and Sabah Tourism Board would start doing promotions in China.
“Like it or not, people from China give numbers. There are 1.3 billion population in China, they are getting richer, their purchasing power is there. They will spend, some of the super rich will come and invest in Sabah, thereby contributing to the State’s economy.”
Liaw, who is also Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (SATTA) chairman and Airworld Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd chairman, has been running chartered flights for the past 15 years.
This year, he managed to secure two chartered flights from Changsha and three from Hangzhou during the Chinese New Year.
Liaw is hopeful that with more news reports to assure the Chinese that Sabah is safe, more Chinese tourists would return to Sabah.
With the help of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Liew believed that tourist arrivals for the second half of this year onwards would be positive.