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KOTA KINABALU, Feb 19 — Sabah's tourism industry registered its highest-ever tourism receipts last year, booking RM8.342 billion from a record-high 3.879 million arrivals.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew said figures represented a 5.3 per cent increase in tourists and 6.6 per cent in income compared to 2017’s RM7.83 billion.
“Overall international arrivals recorded an increase of 10.2 per cent while domestic arrivals increased by 2.8 per cent,” said Liew, citing statistics compiled by the Sabah Tourism Board (STB) that is under her Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry.
Liew said visitors from China, Sabah’s top international source, surpassed its half-million mark with 593,623 arrivals last year.
As of December 2018, there were 125 direct weekly direct flights from China into Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).
South Korea came in second with an increase of 8.5 per cent for a total of 337,100 visitors while the Singapore market grew by 9.1pc last year.
“I am very pleased with our performance in 2018. It was a very good year for Sabah. As of today, we are now connected to 26 international destinations by 12 foreign carriers.
“We will be emphasising more on domestic tourism into Sabah since we have opened up many new tourism areas in the state's interior and the east coast,” she said in a statement here today.
Liew also said that there were currently 444 flights connecting Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak, and Labuan to Sabah, with a capacity of close to 75,000 seats weekly, reflecting the further potential of the sector.
Last year, Sabah added 19 more new direct international flights including the reinstatement of the Kota Kinabalu-Bangkok flight by the Thai wing of AirAsia.
“The rest of the services connected Sabah to international cities such as Beijing, Xiamen, Fuzhou (Xiamen Air), Singapore and Wuhan (Malindo Air), Shenzhen (China Southern Airlines, AirAsia), Macau and Kunming (AirAsia) and Muan (Jeju Air). Tawau too is expanding its connectivity with a direct flight to Kuching.
“2018 was also a significant year for charter flights as Sabah airports (KKIA and Sandakan) welcomed a total of 343 non-scheduled flights compared with 215 the year before,” she said, adding the charter flights brought passengers from China, South Korea and Japan.