KOTA KINABALU, April 27 — Several South Korean airlines are eager to resume direct flights to Kota Kinabalu as soon as possible following the opening of international borders, the Sabah state government said today.

Sabah deputy Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said that several airlines made known their interest to restart flight operations to the Sabah State Capital during a series of engagements here with a delegation from Sabah Tourism Board (STB).

“We had a fruitful discussion with the airline operators expressing their hope to mount direct flights to Kota Kinabalu within the next two months,” said Joniston, who is also Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister.

The delegation met with top management officials from Jin Air, Air Busan, Jeju Air and Air Seoul, all of which were operating direct flights to Kota Kinabalu pre Covid.

“The airline and tour companies also informed STB, that based on feedback from Korean travellers, Sabah is among their top preferred holiday destinations,” he said in a statement here today.

The team met with top executives of two of South Korea’s leading tour companies, Hana Tour and Mode Tour, both of which have started marketing Sabah as a preferred destination.

“They also expressed hope that the government would ease some of Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), especially the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take RTK or PCR test upon arrival,” he said.

South Korea was the first country visited by the Sabah Tourism Board delegation to hold engagement with airlines and tour companies after the opening of international borders on April 1.

Pre-pandemic, Kota Kinabalu International Airport received 67 weekly flights serviced by five carriers flying direct from Seoul, Busan, and Muan in South Korea. South Korea contributed the 2nd most significant international arrival to Sabah with 396,660 visitors in 2019.

“Korea is a key market for Sabah and we see the potential of more Koreans visiting our State post pandemic,” said STB chief executive officer Noredah Othman, adding that STB has maintained a strong relationship with the Korean-based airlines and tour companies even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state currently only has one international direct flight, to Singapore.

Tourism players have lamented that international direct flights were sorely needed to start up the industry again.