KOTA KINABALU, Aug 6 — Chinese tourists are returning to Sabah following the launch of direct flights from China Eastern Airlines last month, after being spooked off earlier by plane crashes, an earthquake and a spate of kidnappings, said a Sabah minister.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said that Sabah’s travel industry has been suffering from the drop in Chinese tourists until the airline, which flies thrice weekly between Shanghai and the state capital, brought in passenger loads of more than 90 per cent since its launch last July 15.
“The demand has been so good that they told me they are considering upgrading to a bigger aircraft or adding to the frequency of flights from three to five flights per week.
“I noticed that coffee shops are having to set up extra tables on the sidewalks again and this is a sure sign that the Chinese tourists are back,” he said in his address to his ministry at their monthly gathering cum Hari Raya celebration here, adding that they are still compiling figures for the second trimester.
According to Masidi, Chinese tourists who made up some 33 per cent of foreign arrivals to the state made a huge impact to the industry when arrivals dropped by as much as 50 per cent compared to previous years.
“Luckily we have had an influx of Korean and Japanese tourists who have buoyed the industry for us somewhat,” he said in his address to his ministry at their monthly gathering cum Hari Raya celebration here.
“The last two years has not been good for Sabah. The MH370 and MH17 tragedies, kidnappings on the east coast and most recently, the earthquake at our World Heritage Site has been challenging to overcome but thankfully we are getting back on our feet,” he added.
Last year, Malaysia saw two major air tragedies — Flight MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with mostly Chinese nationals aboard and a few months later, Flight MH17 was shot down in Ukrainian airspace between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.
A spate of kidnappings by gunmen from southern Philippines on Sabah’s east coast, involving several Chinese and Taiwanese tourists, further damaged the industry.
Masidi said they were currently working on another airline from Wuhan in central China to launch direct flights to the state capital.
“We have also been actively bringing in TV crews to Sabah to film movies, travel shows and documentaries as a way of showing Sabah’s natural attractions to the public. Television and movies have a way of attracting people to the country, particularly if a movie was shot there,” he said.
Masidi said at least seven international shows from Singapore, China, Europe, America and Australia have been filmed in Sabah this year.
However, we could do better in this aspect but our industry is not equipped for it yet. Film crews require support industries like technical crews and equipment which we do not have. Having to ship everything from somewhere else will add to their cost of operations and this is a hindrance.
“But it is worth us looking into because the benefits from having our sunsets and natural wonders broadcasted on the right channels will be invaluable,” added Masidi.