KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has weathered many challenges to achieve outstanding performance in tourism, with its rich natural environment and cultural diversity as advantages to propel the industry.
With aggressive promotion and the increase of flights into Sabah, tourist arrivals have continued to scale up over the past years since 2002 with only a slight drop in 2014.
According to statistics from the Sabah Tourism Board, tourist arrivals in 2014 were recorded at 3,230,645, a 4.5 percent drop from 2013. However, tourist arrivals picked up the following years and have continued to grow.
Last year’s tourist arrivals exceeded the 2016 influx, from 3,427,9,08 arrivals to 3,684,734. Tourism receipts have also increased from RM7.249 billion in 2016 to RM7.82 billion in 2017.
As at January this year, Sabah recorded 312,670 visitors as compared to 294,557 tourists in the same month in the previous years. International and domestic tourists are expected to grow by year end.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the tourism industry is unpredictable, especially when it is surrounded by “bad news”, which create perception among travellers.
“Perception dictates travel patterns and decisions, and this makes the industry difficult to predict. You could be doing exceptionally well today and suddenly nosedive for no apparent and logical reason. The MH370 and the perennial kidnappings are good examples.
“Sabah has weathered many challenges and we have done fairly well for the last five years, bearing in mind over 95 per cent of our visitors come in by air.
“Air connectivity was our biggest challenge, having to convince foreign airlines to fly to Sabah and persevere long enough for them to earn reasonable profit from the flight sector. It’s purely a business decision for an airline to fly to Sabah,” he said.
Today, there are 12 foreign airlines flying to Kota Kinabalu on scheduled flights from 16 foreign destinations with total flight frequencies of 183 per week.
With additional 453 weekly domestic flight frequencies from outside Sabah, it has made Kota Kinabalu International Airport the second busiest airport in Malaysia after the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Stressing that tourism is a competitive industry, Masidi said Sabah should take note of the aggressive tourism promotion in Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia.
He noted these countries would be Sabah’s biggest competitors in the future as they have many products, adding Indonesia, having thousands of islands, has the biggest potential to emerge as the most popular tourists’ destination in the South East Asia region.
Speaking on Sabah’s rural tourism, Masidi stressed the rural community is a crucial component of the industry’s development to ensure tourism dollars are spread out.
“Sabah’s rural areas especially in the West Coast are beautiful. These are the new tourism products that we are marketing to disperse the tourist crowds from the capital. There are few things that need to be done.
“Access like roads to the rural areas need to be improved and upgraded. The rural community needs to be educated and trained on how to handle tourists,” he said.