A Malindo Air plane lands at the Sandakan Airport with 160 tourists from Taiwan. Bernama pic.

SANDAKAN: A total of 160 tourists from Taiwan became the first group of passengers arriving in Sandakan Airport on a special direct charter flight from the country today.

It was an initiative of tour agency, Taikar Sdn Bhd, with cooperation from its Taiwanese counterpart, Sunrise Express Travel Service Co. Ltd, using Malindo Air flight.

The arrival of the tourists at 10.50 am was given a grand welcome in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebration.

Also present were Sabah Tourism Board general manager Suzaini Datuk Sabdin Ghani and Sandakan Municipal Council secretary Faridah Giau.

Speaking to reporters, Suzaini said the initiative was in line with the state government’s efforts to bring tourists to other districts of the state and not to focus only to Kota Kinabalu.

“This is their first attempt and I hope more tour agencies, airlines and hotel operators would collaborate in this kind of partnership to enable more tourists from Taiwan to visit Sandakan,” Suzaini said.

During their stay here until next Tuesday, the tourists would be brought to visit Bakkungan Kecil Island, Libaran Island, Puu Jih Shih Temple, Orang Utan Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Gumantong Cave and enjoy the wildlife habitat along the Kinabatangan River .

For the record, 62,121 tourists from Taiwan were recorded to have visited Sabah last year, which was an increase of 12 per cent from the number recorded in 2016.

Earlier at 2am today, 90 local tourists boarded a similar special charter flight from the Sandakan Airport heading to Taiwan. -- BERNAMA