KOTA KINABALU: China tourist arrivals in Sabah are set to increase markedly as the fifth China-based airline, Lucky Air, commenced its direct non-stop flight to Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
The inaugural flight connecting Kota Kinabalu to second-tier city Kunming in China by Lucky Air marked the start of a thrice weekly service on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Among the more than 60 travel agents from Yunnan Province on board the maiden flight was Lisa Zhang, deputy general manager of Kunming Followind International Travel Service.
Sabah Tourism Board and Malaysia Airports officials were at the airport to welcome the first batch of passengers with a Sabah cultural welcome.
“With this Kunming-Kota Kinabalu new route, Kota Kinabalu is now connected to the the main cities in western China. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah will continue to lobby for direct flights to Kota Kinabalu,” said Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming.
Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said Kota Kinabalu now connects to 16 international cities with the latest Kunming-KK direct flight by Lucky Air. Kunming is the seventh Chinese city that flies direct after Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Wuhan and of course Hong Kong.
“We welcome this good news. New airlines coming in is part of our ongoing efforts to bring in more accessibility into Sabah,” said the general manager of Sabah Tourism Board, Gordon Yapp.
China (including Hong Kong and Macau) is the top contributor for arrivals into Sabah, followed by South Korea and Brunei. Up to April this year, China arrivals to Sabah was up 55.8% compared to last year. In 2016, a total of 246,918 Chinese visited Sabah down from 304,860 from the year before.
Yearly, there is an average 1.6 million Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia, according to Tourism Malaysia records.