Sabah seeks to woo more Indian tourists to the state

Bangkuai mingles with Mehta (third from left) and other Indian travel agents who are members of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI).

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is keen for Indian holidaymakers to return to the state after a previously encouraging influx of guests before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said there had been an upward trend of Indian arrivals to Sabah prior to the pandemic, with 5,606 Indian visitors registered in 2018, and 6,548 recorded the following year.

Bangkuai, who is also Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman, said from the state tourism authorities’ observations, Indian tourists enjoyed Sabah’s nature attractions.

“Indian guests love our beaches, islands, resorts, diving, wildlife and cultures.

“Sabah was also quite a hit as a wedding venue for Indian couples pre-Covid,” he told a group of travel agents from India during a dinner hosted by STB here on Friday (Sept 23).

“We want this situation to return and to re-capture our potential Indian guests. In addition, we hope to welcome Indian filmmakers too as our destination is already well sought after for documentaries,” he added.

The group comprising 32 travel agents from India are now in Sabah to explore the state’s potential as a new tourist destination catering to the Indian market.

The group is among 543 members of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) who recently attended the TAFI conference in Kuching, Sarawak.

The group led by Western India Chapter of TAFI chairman Jitul Mehta had chosen to make their post-conference excursion to Sabah in order to be more familiar with the region and its product offerings.

Bangkuai said the group's visit supports the STB’s continued goal of introducing Sabah to the Indian market as a new and hidden gem of Malaysia.

On aviation accessibility, he said Indian tourists can travel to Sabah via Singapore with 14 flights weekly to Kota Kinabalu, and via Kuala Lumpur, with 230 weekly connecting flights to Kota Kinabalu.

“We at the Sabah Tourism Board want to work closely with tour agents and airlines to expand indirect passenger traffic to Sabah, and who knows, with enough Indian arrivals, we might be able to schedule direct flights from India one day,” he said.

Mehta was hopeful that the group's four-day tour to Sabah would be informative and enlightening for its members who had previously only heard or read about the state.

“We are optimistic that we could bring more Indian tourists to Sabah and perhaps, by working together, we might make direct flights a reality,” he said.

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