KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is expected to receive close to 15,000 tourists from China via direct charter flight between July and August this year, who will bring in RM30 million in tourism receipts for the State.
Malaysia Airlines Berhad, New Era of Guangxi Tourism Corporation Nanning Branch and Borneo Airworld Sdn Bhd signed several Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) yesterday to mount a series of charter flights from Guiyang, Changsha, Nanjing and Hefei, China to Sabah.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman, Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.
Borneo Airworld Sdn Bhd chief executive officer (CEO), Dato’ Seri Winston Liaw, said around 15,000 China tourists would be expected to set foot in Sabah through 97 charter flights provided from the four destinations in July and August.
Liaw said the China tourists would generate tourism receipts of some RM30 million in the two months alone – RM16 million from food and accommodation and RM14 million from tourists’ spendings.
“Hefei is a new destination for Kota Kinabalu. We have never flown direct to Hefei before,” he said.
Apart from the charter flights in July and August, Liaw said, more charter flights would be mounted from October till Chinese New Year next year.
“In the next few years, we will not only fly to China, we will also fly to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia to get more people from other countries to Sabah. We have also asked Malaysia Airlines Berhad to give a helping hand. Without Malaysia Airlines Berhad, nothing can be done,” he said.
Liaw, who is also the managing director of Airworld Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd, said his company has been in the charter flight business for 16 years since 2000.
“At that time, the charter flight services were dominated by China airlines – China Eastern or China Southern.”
Between 2010 to 2014/5, Liaw said, Airworld Travel and Tours engaged Malaysia Airlines to provide ad hoc charter flight services during peak seasons such as Chinese New Year or National Day of China, when the number of passengers from both countries were more feasible.
Liaw said, some perceived that Sabah lacked hotel rooms, especially in three to four stars hotels, but he opined that the shortages in hotel rooms only occur during peak seasons like July and August.
Furthermore, he said, Datuk Francis Goh, CEO of Kinsabina Group cum director of Borneo Airworld, has planned to develop tourism-related properties, from three to five-star hotels in Sabandar, in the next three to five years.
“The development will have facilities such as nightlife, shopping, food street, spa centre, river cruise and water sports. This will ease the shortage of rooms in Sabah,” he said.
Borneo Airworld Sdn Bhd is a strategic partnership between Kinsabina Group and Airworld Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd.
Meanwhile, New Era Guangxi Tourism Corporation Nanning Branch general manager, Li Chuang, said Sabah still lagged far behind Thailand in terms of tourism facilities.
In answering a question posed by the media, Li said Sabah, Bali and Bangkok each has its own uniqueness. However, Bangkok, or Thailand in general, has more developed tourism facilities such as hotels, while the tourism players in that country were also more experienced.
“The environment and people in Sabah are not bad. But Sabah still lags far behind in tourism facilities compared to Thailand.”
Adding to what Li has said, Liaw stressed that the tourism facilities and natural scenery in Sabah was a different grade from Phuket, Thailand.
“Phuket is too commercialized and its natural beauty is nothing compared to Sabah. The water in Phuket is muddy, while in Sabah, we have crystal clear waters.”
Also present was Head of Network Strategy and Planning of Malaysia Airlines Berhad, Proteek Kumar Sengupta.