Ministry to focus on developing tourism sector in rural areas


Christina Liew

KOTA KINABALU (Nov 29): The Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry’s focus in 2024 will be on developing the tourism sector in the rural areas of the state.

Its minister, Datuk Christina Liew, said there will be more allocation for those involved in rural tourism so that they can move forward along with their peers in the urban areas.

Liew when winding up for her ministry during the State Assembly sitting here on Wednesday, said “the development of rural tourism products is important and we will not overlook Semporna.”

She said this in response to Sulabayan assemblyman Datuk Jaujan Sambakong who urged the ministry to ask for more allocation to develop Semporna’s tourism industry.

Liew said that as of September 2023, tourist arrivals to Sabah were 1.88 million with an estimated tourism expenditure of RM3.95 billion.

This marks a significant improvement with a growth rate of 58.2 per cent compared to the previous year, she said, adding that the substantial increase was driven by the recovering number of flights to the state.

Liew said that currently, there are 317 weekly domestic flights and 98 weekly international flights to Kota Kinabalu from 13 international destinations since the reopening of international borders in April 2022.

Sabah, she said, has set a target of 2.8 million tourist arrivals with an expected tourism expenditure of RM5.6 billion.

“This target is propelled by the ministry’s plan to intensify the organization of iconic and internationally recognized events in the state, especially to revive events that were once iconic to the state, such as the Mount Kinabalu Climbathon and Sabah Fest.

“I express my gratitude and highest appreciation to the State Government for approving the allocation for the Sabah Convention Bureau. With this allocation, the Business Events segment can be further developed, especially in attracting more high-end tourists,” Liew said.

She also disclosed that as preparation for Visit Malaysia Year 2026, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry will continue to provide support to upgrade and enhance rural tourism products, especially in areas that are tourist attractions, focusing not only on natural beauty but also on heritage and culture.

The State Government, she said, had approved RM7 million for rural tourism development next year.

“In line with the inclusive allocation for 2024 covering tourism, culture and the environment, my ministry will certainly utilize it to ensure a balance between development and the preservation of the biodiversity of flora and fauna, which is a crucial asset to the state,” she said.

According to Liew, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry also consistently supported efforts to improve and beautify old buildings with historical value that have the potential to attract tourists to those areas and other districts.

This year, the ministry has allocated funds to support the efforts of the local authorities in Tamparuli to maintain and enhance old buildings in the town and Tenghilan.

The ministry, she said, does not hinder but supports the preservation of these old buildings.

However, cooperation from the local authorities in identifying the buildings and their historical significance is expected to meet the criteria for the preservation and maintenance of historical buildings, subsequently becoming attractions for tourism products in those areas.