Sabah has witnessed a tourism boom over the past few years. According to the Sabah Tourism Board (STB), the number of international and domestic tourist arrivals recorded from January to March 2018 was 947,621, a 5.7% increase from 896,845 during the same period last year.
This comes after STB partnered with Malaysia Airlines (MAB) for a joint 2018 campaign in London, in a bid to continue increasing arrivals to Sabah. The partnership will help create even greater opportunities to grow the increasing number of tourists and business travellers from the UK and Ireland, who are flying to Sabah. The state also had 3,684,734 international and domestic visitors in 2017, up 7.5% from 3,427,908 in 2016. Tourism receipts also jumped to RM7.82 billion the previous year from RM7.249 billion in 2016, the New Straits Times (NST) reported.
Sabah's Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun emphasised the need to pay attention to the "aggressive" tourism promotions carried out by other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. He added that these countries would become Sabah's "biggest competitors" moving forward, especially Indonesia, which has numerous islands, giving it the highest potential to become the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, the minister also labelled the rural community as a "crucial component" to the development of Sabah's tourism industry, ensuring that tourism dollars are spread out. He added that work needs to be done to improve and upgrade access to the rural areas such as roads, and that the community is required to be trained on how to handle tourists.
He also described the industry as "unpredictable", adding that travellers' perception dictates their travel patterns and decisions. One of the biggest challenge, according to him, is air connectivity as the tourism board has to convince foreign airlines to fly into Sabah and maintain a relationship long enough to earn a "reasonable profit" from the aviation sector, NST reported.
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