KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government aims to reopen its doors for the arrival of international tourists by September 1 this year, said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew.
She said this would be done by observing the current Covid-19 pandemic situation and also advice from the Health Ministry, while subscribing to the prescribed standard operating procedure (SOP).
“We are looking forward to the reopening of the international sector (tourists), but we will be very selective,” she told reporters after a visit to the Api-Api night food market at Gaya Street here Saturday night.
Liew, who is also State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, said agencies under her ministry, especially the Sabah Tourism Board (STB), always kept abreast with information regarding the matter from other countries.
She said the government was re-opening its the tourism sector, by allowing operation of the night market at Gaya Street.
“We have also re-opened Mount Kinabalu since May 16, and it had attracted about 2,000 climbers, mostly local visitors,” she added.
Meanwhile, on the state’s move to allow the arrivals of tourists from China, Liew said a meeting would be held with China’s consul-general in Kota Kinabalu, Liang Caide, next week regarding the matter.
She said not all areas in China were affected by Covid-19 and the meeting would discuss, among others, how to speed up the arrival of tourists from those areas.
From January to November last year, the Sabah Tourism Board recorded 3.766 million tourists arrivals, with China contributing the most.
Meanwhile, Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Satta) welcomed Liew’s announcement that Sabah is expected to open its doors to foreign tourists in September if there is no second wave of outbreak.
Satta president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw said allowing foreign tourists to enter Sabah would save a lot of struggling businesses as well as prevent massive layoffs.
He said the Finance Ministry had stated that the economy was on the recovery track, while the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) said that it did not intend to extend the loan repayment moratorium.
Liaw hoped that the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) would have measures targeted at the tourism industry, including the hotel sector.
“Other economic sectors are on track for recovery, but not for the tourism sector.”
He said the tourism sector had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic two months before other industries felt the impact.
“Even if the pandemic is contained and Sabah reopens to international flights in September, the tourism industry needs another five to six months to recover, during which it is very challenging to maintain the expenses.
“If we have to start making loan repayments in October, many travel agencies will shut down or temporarily close until the situation improves next year.
“This will have a chain reaction on the economy.”
Hence, Liaw hoped that the BNM would consider extending the loan repayment moratorium for tourism players for another few months to help them overcome the challenges and achieve a win-win outcome for both parties.