Sabah remains a popular destination as cruise tourism resumes


KOTA KINABALU: Cruise tourism has returned to Sabah three years after the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020 with more than 1,000 passengers, including crew members arriving at the Land Below the Wind.

The cruise liner Seabourn Encore entered state waters and pulled into the Sabah Port on Wednesday (Feb 15) morning. Its most recent stop was in Boracay in the Philippines.

This is the first cruise landing in Sabah this year, with the last in 2020, before the closure of international borders and tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Sabah Tourism Board (STB) team was on hand to welcome and present goodie bags to cruise passengers who would be spending the night in Kota Kinabalu before the Seabourn Encore set sail at 6pm from Sabah Port en route to its homeport in Singapore.

STB chief executive officer Noredah Othman said the resumption of the cruise tourism industry is an encouraging sign that Sabah remains a popular destination for cruisers.

“This year, we expect eight cruise ships to come, and Sabah can expect to see an increase in the number of tourists visiting the state,” she said.

“The return of cruise ship tourism can help to promote Sabah as a tourist destination to a broader audience, allowing visitors on board to explore the city and nearby attractions,” she added.

Noredah said cruise ships typically visit multiple destinations on a single itinerary, and the exposure that Sabah gets as part of this itinerary can encourage tourists to consider Sabah as a standalone holiday destination.

She said this industry had contributed tens of thousands of visitors to Sabah, adding that it was vital to tap into the cruise market while giving the opportunity for the state to introduce more diverse tourism products within the city for cruise passengers.

“This is not limited to Kota Kinabalu as cruise ships berth in Sandakan as well,” Noredah added.

Sabah had the most cruise ship arrivals in 2019, with 26 cruise liners and 37,431 passengers.

In 2018, Sabah received 21 cruise ships and 21,738 passengers, compared with 17 cruise ships and 23,474 passengers in 2017.

From January to February 2020, Sabah received five cruise ships and 9,140 passengers.

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