Of all Malaysia’s rich tapestry, Sabah perhaps epitomises the country’s most attractive qualities best.
For all of Kuala Lumpur’s urban modernity, and Penang’s cultural prevalence, Sabah represents ‘team nature’ and for that alone, it will forever remain one of the nation’s foremost hotspots.
The State has recognised this appeal too. Every strategic investment, infrastructural development and tourism-driven improvement is made with a view to capitalise on the natural delights that grace the likes of Borneo, Kinabalu, Sepilok and Tawau.
As a result, Sabah is now one of the world’s leading areas for wildlife conservation on the nature side, and for island diving from a more adventurous perspective. These two elements are reason enough to explore the region once business has been concluded. And it’s only going to get better in the years to come.
The Sabah Tourism Board continues to work tirelessly to diversify Sabah’s offering, without diluting the authenticity and organic traits that are already so popular. Rather, it is focusing on enhancing people’s stay once there – addressing areas of hospitality as evidenced by Hyatt Regency Kinabalu and Ming Garden Hotel & Residences; and accessibility as epitomised by the 19 different domestic and international routes that connect to Sabah.
Areas of nightlife and the food & drink scene are also being developed to attract a younger demographic of visitors, and in the years to come it will come as no surprise to see Sabah every bit as popular as its neighbouring counterparts.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: SABAH TOURISM BOARD
The Sabah Tourism Board (STB) was formerly known as Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation (STPC) and is an agency of the Sabah State Government. It is primarily responsible for marketing and promoting tourism for the State. First established in 1976, STB was re-established as a statutory agency in November, 1985 and now comes under the remit of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Environment, Sabah.
Today, STB constitutes five major operational areas: Marketing Division, Research Division, Product Division, Finance & Corporate Services Division, and Support Services Division. The reactivation of its wholly-owned subsidiary company, Sri Pelancongan Sabah Sdn. Bhd. has enabled STB to reorganise and focus its main activities on tourism marketing, promotion and research.
Christina Liew of the Sabah Tourism Board introduced the Association, its aims, and its initiative in line with the State’s overriding missions.
Q&A WITH CHRISTINA LIEW, MINISTER OF TOURISM, CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT SABAH
Christina Liew (CL): Since the beginning, Sabah Tourism’s aim was to promote Sabah as a premier destination for nature and adventure in the region. The State has an abundance of attractions that are nature-based, and the Ministry under Sabah Parks (established in 1964) is responsible for developing these hotspots as conservation centres that would attract tourism in the long run. We are very proud to say that Sabah is at the forefront of conservation policies for the country. For example, Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, was gazetted in 1964, the same year Sabah Parks was set up. The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is the first marine park in Malaysia set up in 1974.
Newer products were introduced over the years, however both the marine and Kinabalu parks are the most frequented attractions for foreign and local tourists until today. Conservation remains the key theme for Sabah. Recently, Sabah Tourism introduced the Rural Tourism programme, an extension of nature-based tourism focusing on communities in rural areas and their lifestyles. Rural Tourism coined the tagline ‘lung-cleansing’ to suggest activities and tours done at lush areas where the air is clean and rejuvenating. Sabah is also known for fresh seafood for Northern Asia markets. Food is slowly becoming the main attraction for younger travellers.
How would you say Sabah Tourism Board has developed in recent years as a business travel hub and what are the key reasons behind its growing appeal?
(CL): Up to today, air travel accessibility has increased, especially connecting to Kota Kinabalu. There are more than 180 flights connecting the Kota Kinabalu International Airport to 19 international destinations. Sandakan and Tawau are also receiving direct flights from Kuala Lumpur for visitors who are keen to visit places like Sepilok and Kinabatangan as well as diving off the islands of Semporna.
Sabah as a cruise destination is being slowly recognised although the cruise terminal port has not been renovated and modernised. Today, the tourism industry is the third biggest income earner for Sabah. In 2017, total arrivals grew 10 percent to 3.684 million or an estimated RM7.829 billion in receipts.
A number of chain hotels are opening in Sabah due to the stable Government and investor-friendly environment. Hilton and Mecure Kota Kinabalu are now operational with Marriott joining the market very soon.
The business sector is eagerly waiting the completion of the Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC) due in early 2019. Sabah is already receiving large incentive groups, and with the SICC, Sabah will be able to formerly hold business tourism events.
What is in store for Sabah over the course of 2018 and beyond to continue the good work already commenced and to enhance its reputation as a tourism and business travel hub further in the future?
(CL): For 2018 we will look into new areas. We have plans for developing tourism products for Tawau, which has been a stopover town all these years for visitors to go to Semporna and the islands for diving. We will also be looking at maintenance or upgrading of our basic facilities in public areas, especially airports.
We would like to give a very good first impression for visitors when they land. We would also be focusing on conservation issues such as the status and long-term planning of our large Bornean mammals. After all, Sabah is known for conservation since the very beginning.
Finally, what progress and development would you hope and expect to be able to report back in the future, both in regard to the Sabah Tourism Board as an entity, and to the business travel industry in Sabah as a whole?
(CL): I would like to see growth in the markets, especially the long-haul markets, so they grow alongside the arrivals coming from China. I would also like to see the creation of newer tourism hotspots, especially on the East Coast of Sabah.
“We are very proud to say that Sabah is at the forefront of conservation policies for the country.” – Christina Liew, Sabah Tourism Board
“The stunning sapphire waters and emerald isles of the Semporna Archipelago, home to Bajau sea gypsies in Crayola-coloured boats, are plucked from your most vivid dreams of tropical paradise. Of course few visitors come this way for the islands – rather, it is the ocean and the lure of what lies beneath its surface. This is first and foremost a diving destination – one of the best in the world.” – Lonely Planet
“Kota Kinabalu is a very nice city to stay for a few days. There are many nice sights and attractions. Of course you can shop until you drop in the huge shopping malls. You can enjoy fabulous meals at one of the many hawkers. At the Signal Hill Lookout point you can enjoy fantastic panoramic views over the city. The city also serves as gateway to visitors that are on their way to visit the amazing Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park, padas river for white water rafting, or Mount Kinabalu.” – Wonderful Malaysia
“Mount Kinabalu’s specialty lies in its location at a renowned World Heritage Site – Kinabalu Park. Nature lovers will be delighted to be able to witness the many variations of flora and fauna that are to be found on the mountain at different altitudes… Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Mount Kinabalu derives its name from the Kadazan word, ‘Aki Nabalu’, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. It is one of the safest and most conquerable peaks in the world – provided that you’re reasonably healthy and physically fit.” – MountKinabalu.com