The recent announcement by Malaysian prime minister Najib Abdul Razak that Sabah’s Sandakan Airport runway will be extended to handle both direct and chartered flights from China has been met with positive reception from the Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA).
MATTA’s vice president for inbound and domestic, KL Tan, said: “Increased tourists arrivals will boost the economy. There were 183 charter flights from China to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah’s state capital) in 2016 but none directly to Sandakan."
Sandakan Airport. Credit: www.malaysiaairports.com.my
Tan believes that Sandakan's food and culture will appeal to Chinese tourists as the market is now more “mature and want to experience authenticity and nature”.
He indicated that there has been more enquires to eco-attractions like Turtle Island Borneo, Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
But for Sandakan to be able to cater to the influx of Chinese tourists, Tan urged stakeholders to work faster to ensure there are enough F&B outlets, hotels and attractions. As well, Mandarin-speaking guides and an efficient transportation system are also required.
“A glaring setback for Sandakan is the lack of proper beaches for tourists to enjoy watersport activities. But it will ease the lack of accommodation for Chinese tourists to Kota Kinabalu during the peak season, and we certainly welcome a more balanced spread of Chinese tourists to other towns in Sabah,” concluded Tan.