KOTA KINABALU: Tourist arrivals in Sabah has seen an increase this year up to September, breaching the one million mark, indicating a positive recovery in the tourism industry.
Sabah Tourism Board statistics showed that 1,046,656 domestic tourists and 143,857 foreign tourists arrived in the state up to September.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sabah receives more than four million tourists a year.
Sabah Tourism Board chief executive officer Noredah Othman said as 90 per cent of tourists travelled to Sabah by air, the state sees flights as a vital link in the recovery of the tourism industry.
She said Sabah has regained one-third of its international direct air links between April and December, a good indication of the recovery of Sabah's tourism industry.
She said direct international air connectivity to the state has increased to six cities in Asia after the resumption of flights between Taipei, Taiwan, and Sabah.
On Monday, Malaysia Airlines resumed the Taipei-Kota Kinabalu route.
Other cities with direct flights to Kota Kinabalu are Incheon (South Korea), Singapore, Manila (the Philippines), Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) and Bangkok (Thailand).
Before the pandemic, Sabah had direct flight connections with 20 cities in the Asia-Pacific region, including in China, Brunei, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
"The board works closely with airline operators to regain and create new international connectivity to not only Kota Kinabalu, but also other major airports in Sabah.
"We congratulate Malaysia Airlines for reinstating the Taipei-Kota Kinabalu route," Noredah said.
Flight MH069's arrival at Kota Kinabalu International Airport from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was marked with a welcome ceremony, including a water salute.
Malaysia Airlines group chief executive officer Captain Izham Ismail said the airline was committed to facilitating the travel and tourism industry's recovery, as well as driving inbound traffic to ensure that the travel and airlines industry recovers stronger in the post-pandemic era.
"We believe that our continued collaboration with the Sabah Tourism Board will position Sabah as a preferred holiday destination and strategic transit point for travellers connecting Kota Kinabalu to neighbouring states via sister airlines Firefly and MASwings.
"In August, Malaysia Airlines also began direct services between Kota Kinabalu and Singapore. We restored the majority of our pre-pandemic domestic market capacity across all MAG airlines, and we expect to end the year with 82 per cent capacity of the pre-pandemic level."