Sabah folk are confident that the state’s many attractions and natural beauty will pull in travellers again.
If there is one thing that Sabahans can always count on for a job and money, it is the tourism sector.
Tourism is Sabah’s third largest and one of the state’s most important income-generating sectors.
Whatever happens, the industry will always pick itself up after a slowdown.
This Year of the Horse was welcomed with hope and a feeling of new beginnings, with the Government aiming for a change in the economy, for fewer cross border crimes and a boost in major sectors in Sabah and the country.
However, many, especially businesses in the east coast, had their hopes crushed when kidnappings were reported.
Just this year alone, less than six months after Taiwanese tourist Li Min Hsu, 57, was shot dead while his partner Chang An Wei, 58, was taken from the Pom Pom Island resort in Semporna to the Philippines on Nov 15 last year, Sabah was again shocked with at least two more kidnappings in the district.
In the first incident, Filipina resort worker Marcy Darawan, 40, and Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, 29, were taken from the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna on April 2.
Both of them were freed from their Abu Sayyaf kidnappers on May 30.
In the second abduction, fish farm manager Yang Zai Lin, 34, was taken from the Wonderful Terrace Fish Farm in Lahad Datu waters on May 6.
Yang has not been rescued yet.
The once busy districts like Semporna and Lahad Datu have turned more quiet now.
Hotels that used to be fully booked almost year round now have extra rooms to spare when visitors come knocking on their doors.
Besides the kidnappings, other criminal activities such as shootings and smuggling add to the visitors’ “reasons not to visit” list.
In Kota Kinabalu, eateries and souvenir shops are also suffering after the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 incident.
A survey carried out at one of the city’s famous eateries for Chinese tourists in the heart of Kota Kinabalu shows a drop among travellers from China.
“The number of those from China has dropped a lot,” said one of the staff members who did not want to be identified.
Their customers now comprise mostly Malaysians, Singaporeans, Koreans or Hong Kong folk.
A news report from China quoted Chinese travel agencies as saying that the number of clients from northern China going to Malaysia declined 50% compared with the corresponding period last year, including group and independent travellers, in just two weeks after the MH370 incident.
Celebrities from China tweeted or posted their messages on Weibo, a China-based online social network, saying that they have decided to boycott travelling to Malaysia.
However, not all news is gloomy.
A boatman working for one of the speedboat companies for the islands near Kota Kinabalu, who wanted to be identified only as Masti, said arrivals seemed to have picked up.
Initially, the company was thinking of reducing its travel fees.
“There were not many tourists, especially those from China.
“Our boss was thinking of lowering the fees from the jetty here to the islands but, thankfully, arrivals seem to have gradually increased after about two months,” Masti said.
He added that they were now seeing a sufficient number of tourists from various parts of the world which allows the company to generate income.
Sabah is still an attractive place for travellers, with its diverse scenic spots, culture, history, food and entertainment.
Tourists can sample traditional and local food sold in the tamus (gathering point).
There are beautiful islands and resorts all over the state. In Kota Kinabalu and the west coast, there are Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Sulug, Pulau Tiga, Mamutik Island and Mantanani in Kota Belud.
South-East Asia’s largest floating reef at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park is just about a 30-minute boat ride from the city.
The east coast offers beautiful islands such as Sipadan in Tawau, Kapalai in Semporna, Turtle Island Park and Langkayan Island in Sandakan.
Although Sabah’s tourism industry is facing a slight slowdown now, many Sabahans are confident that business will pick up by the end of the year.