Sabah bolsters tourism with growth in air traffic

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) has boosted national tourism, particularly for the state of Sabah with its move to consolidate all airport and flight operations at Terminal 1. According to a press statement, the Sabah state welcomed 9.4% more international tourists in 2017 after a year the AirAsia Group shifted to T1. This resulted in 1.2 million international passengers travelling to Sabah that year. The total tourist arrivals saw a 7.5% surge, from 3.4 million in 2016 to 3.7 million in 2017.

In addition, Sabah has attracted more airlines to operate direct flights to and from KKIA. KKIA T1 has rammed up his facilities to provide comfort and convenience for its passengers. Six international airlines have started its operations in KKIA, bringing in tourists from Asian regions such as Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan. Offering more opportunities of growth for the airlines, there are now 25 airlines operating at KKIA T1.

The first half of 2018 saw a 7% growth compared to the same period last year. This was attributed to the rise in international passenger traffic movements which also reflects the increase in tourist numbers in Sabah. On another note, international traffic movements grew from 1.6 million in 2014 and 2015 to 2.1 million in 2016, increasing by 27%. Last year it grew by another 22% to 2.5 million.

This leap in numbers was evident for AirAsia Group as the growth in Terminal 2 (T2) KKIA hovered between 2% to 3% in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It saw a growth to 5% in 2016, 7% in 2017 and double the growth of 15% for the first half of 2018. This was not only evident for AirAisa as other airlines with international routes had registered growth in numbers for the years 2016 and 2017. T2 was initially a temporary terminal for low-cost carriers while T1 was getting revamped. Upon the completion on T1, all low-cost carriers moved over while AirAsia Group moved end of 2015 due to capacity and growth. The consolidation of terminal and flight operations were in tandem with the global trends in the aviation industry to improve connectivity, accelerate growth and provide better customer satisfaction.

In a bid to encourage more airlines operations at KKIA, Malaysia Airports had also closely collaborated with the state of Sabah to further promote the state as a destination. A dedicated fund of about RM17 million has been allocated by Malaysia Airports to assist various destination marketing activities undertaken by the state and airlines to promote new routes such as Wuhan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shenzen, Taipei and Singapore.

Back in 2014 and 2015, the airport passenger traffic movement data reported that KKIA was experiencing declining passenger movement at -2% and -3% respectively. However, it jumped double the figure of 10% in both 2016 and 2017.

In recent years, global hubs have had an optimal mix of long haul full service carriers and low-cost carriers at their airports, especially in Europe namely Spain, UK and Germany that have closed down dedicated low-cost terminals. In Singapore, Changi International Airport has also closed down its dedicated low-cost terminal in 2012 and merged low cost operations with the main terminal. Moreover, Ryan Air has increasingly moved into main terminals to capitalise on traffic and connectivity available at these terminals. With these in mind, Malaysia Airports have placed strategies to further position KL International Airport (KLIA) as a preferred hub in the region, as well as other international airports in Malaysia such as KKIA as feeder hubs.

According to the press statement, this includes initiatives to encourage more airlines to operate at international airports under its management.  Apart from enhancing connectivity, operating from a single terminal had allowed for optimisation of resources and more seamless and improved passengers experience without the hassle of changing terminals.