Sabah would inevitably conjure images of the famed Mount Kinabalu and the diving haven of Pulau Sipadan.
There is also the orang utan, Borneo pygmy elephants and the yearly Kaamatan or Harvest Festival of the Kadazandusun community.
Sabah’s tourism promotion efforts have until now largely focused on the state’s nature and cultural attractions.
That is all about to change and Sabah can take its place among the shopping destinations in Asia in about eight months.
Designer brands like Cortina Watch, Guess, BYSI, Southhaven, Edmundser, Bega, Esprit, Hang Ten, Charles and Keith, Royal Sporting House, Elianto, Tomei, Blush and Salabianca are heading to the state capital.
They are setting up shop at the mammoth 1Borneo hypermall that will open its doors come March next year.
With some 600 shop lots scattered over a total floor area of nearly 140,000sq m, 1Borneo is a tad smaller than Kuala Lumpur’s Mid Valley Megamall in terms of retail space.
But there is more to 1Borneo. The largest shopping complex in Borneo will have four hotels with a total of about 800 rooms slated to be operational late next year.
Among them are the no frills Tune Hotel affiliated with budget airline AirAsia, Novotel and the Grand Boulevard. There are two blocks of 800 mid-level condominiums and the proposed 114 super condominiums. All these will push the total built up area at 1Borneo to a staggering 445,000 sq m.
Jointly developed by Sagajuta (Sabah) Sdn Bhd, a division of construction giant Ramajuta Group and the United Sabah Islamic Association, that owns the 9.4ha site, 1Borneo promises to add another dimension to what Sabah can offer to its 2.5 million annual visitors.
“The push for eco and cultural tourism is fine but shopping is an important element for travellers these days, particularly Asians,” Sagajuta managing director Raymond Chan said.
He reckons the RM1bil 1Borneo is at “the right place at the right time” with the advent of the Asean open skies policy by 2009 and with budget airlines like AirAsia in operations.
Chan said the mall would redefine shopping in this part of the world as about 40% of foreign brands setting up shop in 1Borneo were new to the country.
“Currently when Sabahans want to shop for branded stuff the first choice would likely be Kuala Lumpur. Soon there will be more reason for people from the peninsula to come to Sabah for some serious shopping at 1Borneo apart from the mountain and the islands.”
The immediate catchment area for 1Borneo is Kota Kinabalu’s 800,000 population and those who live within 20 km of the city’s vicinity. Universiti Malaysia Sabah with 16,000 students and staff and the spanking new Federal department complex or “mini Putrajaya” is just a stone’s throw away.
Chan also believes 1Borneo will be big enough to pull in not only those from various districts but also Bruneians.
It comes as no surprise that Sagajuta is targeting 50,000 visitors daily on weekdays and up to 70,000 on weekends when 1Borneo opens. “We are certain there will be numerous repeat visitors,” Chan said.
As construction of 1Borneo reaches its final stages, Chan has assembled a management team that includes Singaporean expert Wong Chee Hwa who has 25 years experience in mall and property management.
Wong, who is 1Borneo's operations manager, said some RM2.5mil has been allocated for advertising and promotions for the few months before and after the opening of 1Borneo. “It will be unforgettable because I want 1Borneo to take off with a bang,” he said.
And after the glitzy opening, those coming to 1Borneo would find a “classy” but affordable place for shopping, Chan said.
“By then Sabah will no longer just be known for its nature but also for some real serious retail therapy,” he added.