KOTA KINABALU, March 6 — Domestic arrivals to Sabah have increased by 700 per cent in December 2021 compared to the same month the year before since the state allowed interstate travel last year.

Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Noredah Othman said Sabah saw an influx of domestic visitors since the state opened for interstate travellers in December 2021.

“We saw how important it is for us to depend on domestic travellers.”

In fact, she said statistics showed that domestic visitors to Sabah had soared 700 per cent in December last year compared to the same month of the previous year when people could travel again.

“That’s how big domestic travel is for Sabah,” she said at the 2022 Sabah Tourism Business-to-Business (B2B) Event organised by the Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association (MCTA) Sabah chapter at Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC) here on Sunday.

The B2B event was participated by nine community-based tourism product owners, 22 travel agents and 11 hoteliers, and attended by 60 MCTA delegates comprising travel agents from West Malaysia and Sarawak to explore what Sabah has to offer.

Noredah said the Covid-19 pandemic had disastrously reduced the arrivals to Sabah in 2020 and 2021, which was exacerbated by the ban on interstate travel previously.

Nevertheless, she said Sabah had always been resilient in overcoming the challenges.

“Sabah has gone through financial crisis, kidnappings, earthquake, SARS, you name it, of course nothing to the extent of the pandemic and nothing that lasted so long.

“For us in Sabah Tourism, we can’t wait for borders to open. But for now, we need to be together. We need to support domestic travel.”

She said the STB was working on reviving the tourism industry and reconnecting with industry players based on its four pillars, which included convincing travellers to return to Sabah; looking into potential segments like community-based tourism, medical tourism and niche tourism; supporting local industry players; and restoring connectivity to Sabah.

Before the pandemic, she said Sabah had more than 220 direct international flights, mostly from China and Korea.

This year, she said the State Government had approved an allocation of RM1.8 million to carry out joint promotion and marketing with airlines to ensure they return to Sabah.

On another note, Noredah said Sabah had been promoting community-based tourism since 2014.

Despite being new players in tourism, she said the community tourism players have a lot of products to offer, such as those in Kiulu River and Kadamaian.

“Community-based tourism is not just about having tourism products, but also helping the community gain income, enable them to understand how they can conserve and preserve their natural surroundings and sharing their lifestyle.”

Meanwhile, organising chairman Jimmy Wong said tourism players have been struggling very hard since the start of the pandemic two years ago.

He said it was time for tourism players to act and thus the Sabah Tourism B2B event.

He said the generous support of RM40,000 which STB had provided for the event showed that the latter cared about the situation faced by tourism players.

“With the recommendation by Noredah, we embark on a mission few associations have done, that is community-based tourism that has been promoted heavily by STB and Malaysia Tourism.”

He said the five-day-four-night itinerary the MCTA Sabah chapter designed for its West Malaysian counterparts would allow them to enjoy the scenery, cultures, people and adventures in Sabah.

He hoped that the delegates would maintain an open mind when visiting the places in Sabah, absorb their beauty and embrace the adventurous spirit of the destinations.

“And when you return to your respective chapters, sing the song of Sabah and sing the song of the communities in Kiulu River and Kadamaian River,” he said when addressing the delegates.

Also present were MCTA national president Paul Paw, MCTA Sabah chapter chairman Vincent Sia and immediate past chairman Lawrence Wong. — Borneo Post