Thursday, July 18

Promoting Labuan as tourism hub

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GRAND VIEW: The Billion Pavilion Hotel viewed from the sea.

THE island of Labuan boasts several tourist spots which are as popular as its free shops.

For starters, the War Cemetery is a must-visit with its war graves and memorials to the soldiers who died fighting the Japanese occupiers during World War II.

Among the fallen were British, Australian, Indian, Sarawakian, Bruneian, North Borneo and Empire troops.

There are more than 3,000 graves at the Ceremery and they are commemorated on Warriors Day each year.

Another place of interest is the Surrender Point on the beach where Lieutenant-General Masao Baba, commander of the 37th Japanese Southern Army, surrendered to Major General George F Wootten of the 9th Australian Division on Sept 9, 1945, marking the end of Japanese occupation in Sarawak and the then British North Borneo.

At the Memorial Park which faces the sea, visitors can picnic at a quiet spot with a seafront view.

The lovely beach and duty-free shopping for chocolates, liquor and cigarettes are also crowd pullers.

Soon, holiday makers may have good reason to stay overnight or even longer in Labuan as a new theme park is in the offing.

Peter Kong, proprietor of Billion Pavilion Hotel, is looking forward to setting up the park, preferably at a site where the facility can be expanded to utilise the island’s major resource — water.

He visualises the park in the mould of Sunway Lagoon — only better since Labuan has more natural advantages, among them the blue sea.

“I have been mulling this for a long time and I believe it is a doable project. The theme park will incorporate chalets and water sports such as jet skiing and kayaking, among others,” he said.

There will also be facilities for children to play in the water during family outings.

However, Kong pointed out that all these attractions could end up under-utilised if not fully promoted.

“We can start by making sure ferries coming to Labuan have good facilities. I’m thinking especially about the ferry terminal in Menumbok. It should be well-equipped to give travellers comfort and confidence.”

He said there should also be a shaded terminal which – apart from providing shelter from the sun and rain — could double as a complex with proper food outlets as well as lodging and related facilities.

“Sometimes when travellers are already within a gated area, it’s a hassle for them to go outside again just to eat at the nearby stalls,” he noted.

“They should be in a place with integrated facilities such as eateries, good toilets and a waiting area with proper seats. If possible, accommodation should also be provided for those who have to stay overnight at the terminal. It’s all very well for them to sleep in their cars but it’s certainly better if they have a proper place to stay.”

With these facilities in place, he said the Sabah government could promote Labuan to international travel agents and tour operators, adding: “I think they can also incorporate us in their tour packages.”

Kong who is also executive chairman of Labuan Ferry Corporation Sdn Bhd (LFC), felt that the government could offer incentives to travel agents who incorporated Labuan in their itineraries.

“We want to promote Labuan as a tourism hub in the region. We have all the tourist spots that people usually go to such as the Chimney, the War Memorial, the War Museum and, of course, the duty-free shops. But I believe these attractions have to be augmented if we really want Labuan to thrive as a tourist destination,” he stressed.

As a hotelier, Kong wants to be prepared for an influx of tourists into the island, and he is looking into building a service apartment adjacent to Billion Pavilion to cater for long-term stay and holidaying families.

“I believe the idea is good as we can cater to all our guests whose needs may differ,” he explained.

He is confident the project will be realised as there is a need for such an apartment in Labuan to promote tourism and spur economic growth.

He also expressed the fervent hope that the construction of a good terminal in Menumbuk would be looked into soon.

On the proposed bridge from Menumbok to Labuan, he said it was not a good idea at the moment because the business community, especially hoteliers, in Menumbok could be affected.

“It’s better to promote the island through activities, events and products rather than a bridge,” he added.

SIGHT TO SEE: One of the places of interest on the island.

FERRY POINT: The ferry terminal in Labuan.

FRIENDS: Peter Kong (right) and his lawyer friend Daniel Lim.