China tourists flock to Sabah again

KOTA KINABALU: The lure of the sea and convenient direct flights are among the factors pulling Chinese tourists to Sabah despite security concerns, according to Sabah Tourism Federation president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw.

These travellers, he said, had been assured by the presence of security personnel in the east coast area.

“The issue of personal safety is not stopping them from coming as many of them say that crimes occur everywhere,” he said, crediting the continuous arrival of Chinese tourists to efforts by the Sabah Tourism Board (STB).

The feedback from Chinese tourists indicated that Sabah’s natural resources were a major attraction, he added.

“They tell us that they love our beautiful beaches, islands, nature and cheap seafood,” he said, adding that it also helped that many Sabahans could speak various Chinese dialects.

Seafood, especially in the east coast, is not only fresh but cheaper compared to peninsular Malaysia or even China, he added.

Multiclients Travels Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Carmen Liong Zia Zia agreed that the beaches and islands in Sabah were key attractions for tourists from China.

Japan and Britain recently issued alerts to their citizens about travelling to the east coast of Sabah. On Feb 21, Australia issued a similar travel advisory.

But Sabah tourism authorities have assured that the place is safe and secure, and that the eastern island resorts remain popular.

The resorts are said to be recording nearly 90% occupancy rates.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Hamzah Rahmat said tourism operators were optimistic that the industry would bounce back from the tough times, citing improved sentiments, especially in Sabah.

“Our members there say things are going well and many visitors are coming from China,” he said, adding that after Sabah, the most popular states for visitors from China were Penang and Johor.

He said issues such as the weak global economy, the MH370 disaster and kidnapping cases in Sabah had affected tourism numbers in the last two years.

According to STB, visitor numbers declined from 3,383,243 in 2013 to 3,230,645 (-4.5%) in 2014 and 3,176,226 (-1.7%) last year.

“But the situation will improve,” Hamzah added.

As for travel warnings, he said these were a global issue and not exclusive to Malaysia.

MATTA inbound vice-president Datuk K.L. Tan expected a rebound to pre-2014 numbers, attributing the turnaround to effective marketing by travel agents and Tourism Malaysia in China as well as various programmes by STB.

Another major coup was convincing three airlines – China Southern, China Eastern and Spring Airlines – to launch direct flights to Sabah.

Tan said the Eastern Sabah Security Command’s deployment of more manpower, assets and surveillance also improved tourists’ sense of security.

This news first appeared in the Star

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