Sabah launches tourism drive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 12:00am

MORE DIRECT FLIGHTS are planned from Hong Kong to Sabah by Dragonair and Malaysia Airlines as part of a drive to boost tourism from the SAR to Kota Kinabalu.

The moves were announced as government officials and tourism industry representatives from the East Malaysian state in Borneo last week wooed local travel agents in a bid to set up wide-ranging package deals to Sabah and its neighbouring state, Sarawak. Most Hong Kong tourists who visit Kota Kinabalu buy short break packages in nearby resorts but the state, which was chosen for the first of the highly successful Survivor series, is gearing up for adventure and eco-tourism.

Dr Zainal Adlin, chairman of the Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation (STPC), told travel agents at a presentation at the Island Shangri-La Hotel that the state hoped to develop tourism based on its natural attractions, easy access - it is less than three hours flight from Hong Kong - and value for money.

Present packages offer two nights in five-star hotels and air ticket for less than $4,000, he says, but there are a host of possibilities. 'People come here from the United States for adventure travel and spend US$3,000 [HK$23,400] to suffer for 10 days,' he quips.

Attractions the STPC is promoting include climbing Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia's first World Heritage site, white-water rafting, skydiving, and rainforest treks. There are visits to villages of former headhunting tribes, fishing, visits to giant clam farms, island hopping and turtle spotting. Sabah also has 19 golf courses.

Tourism from Hong Kong is still in its infancy. There were only about 12,000 visitors last year, but there has been an increase of 11 per cent during the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year, the latest figures show. From Asia, Sabah is most popular with Taiwanese, while British tourists top the list from Europe.

Zainal says there are daily direct flights of only 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu to Mulu National Park in Sarawak. Mulu's attractions include limestone caves and jungle boardwalks.

Among the resorts represented at the presentation was Sipadan Water Village. Sipadan, off the coast of Sabah, grabbed headlines in April last year when 22 people were taken hostage from another resort by Muslim guerillas from the nearby Jolo Islands in the Philippines. There is also a dispute over ownership of Sipadan and Ligitan islands between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Ken Pan, executive director of Sipadan Water Village, says security has been beefed up in the area, though military strongholds cannot be built while ownership disputes remain unresolved. He admits it is proving difficult to woo tourists back to Sipadan, which is renowned for its superb diving sites, but he hopes things will be back to normal within 12 months.

Dragonair operates a daily service from Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu in co-operation with Malaysia Airlines and says there will be four extra flights to Kota Kinabalu between the middle and end of July to meet demand. It says it also anticipates more flights will be added in August and September.