Moves to attract more Chinese travellers to Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Many Chinese nationals are still unaware of the existence of Sabah despite decades of promotional efforts in that country, says state Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Christina Liew (pic).

She said at the mention of Malaysia, young Chinese adults in particular would only relate to Kuala Lumpur.

She added that this was the information and feedback gathered from tourism players during her official visit to Xi’an, Shanghai and Beijing that ended yesterday.

However, Liew said she is optimistic that this is set to change after her meetings with government officials, airline representatives, including China’s major airlines, and industry leaders to boost international tourism.

“I am upbeat about the outcome of my meetings with stakeholders in the key cities and anticipate a further increase in the number of Chinese tourist arrivals in Sabah.

“I am of the view that all parties concerned can reap the benefits of reciprocal tourism if we are focused and collaborate to heighten our tourism activities in promoting each other’s interests for mutual gain,” she said in a statement yesterday.

Given a rebound in outbound tourism, she proposed a chartered flight be mounted from Shanghai to Tawau in the near future.

Liew said she welcomed AirAsia’s proposal to set up an office in Beijing to aggressively promote Sabah as a preferred tourist destination, and to create content on social media platforms like TikTok for young people to generate publicity for the state.

According to AirAsia China general manager Frank Tang Ting, the airline used to operate 28 weekly direct scheduled flights from China to Kota Kinabalu before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently, it has 36 direct scheduled flights weekly from China (including Hong Kong) to Kota Kinabalu.

During her visit to China, Liew also hosted a lunch meeting with, among others, Tang, Tourism Malaysia Beijing director Razali Tuan Omar and Malaysia Airlines Beijing sales manager Carl Wang.

Also present were Xiao Peng from Beijing A-mei Express International Travel Service, Claudia Wang from Silk Road International Arts Centre, and Hu Jian Rong of Zheng Tong Guang Mai Travel.

During the meeting, Liew said she emphasised the need to simplify the visa application process for Malaysia-bound travellers.

She said she was then informed by Razali that the number of visas issued to Chinese tourists travelling to Malaysia had increased since international borders were reopened, going from 72,975 visas in March this year to 87,191 visas in April and 100,165 visas in May.

Liew hailed Malaysia Airlines’ proposal to reserve some 20 diving permits for each flight as an incentive for diving enthusiasts.

Throughout her visits, Liew also promoted Kunak – Sabah’s east coast town – as another tourist destination.

“Interestingly, Kunak has a relatively untapped diving spot where its exotic marine life is comparable to that of the famous Sipadan Island,” she added.

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