Sabah has ‘the best Malaysians’, tourism minister tells visiting Chinese

PETALING JAYA: Sabah is leveraging on the closer bilateral ties between Putrajaya and Beijing to boost tourist arrivals from China to the state.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said Sabah was likely to benefit more from the Chinese market than other Malaysian states.

“I like to say we are unique because we are ‘the best Malaysians’,” he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) today.

“We don’t have any problem with racial harmony, and a lot of the non-Chinese here speak Chinese.

“This gives a lot of confidence to the Chinese tourists because they feel they are at home… We speak the language but we don’t have the crowds or traffic jams and we have the cleanest air in Malaysia,” he added.

According to SCMP, Masidi was working to convince private investors and the federal government to pump more money into the state to capitalise on the Chinese tourism boom.

He said the single-terminal Kota Kinabalu International Airport, which saw some 7.9 million passengers last year, needed to have its capacity improved.

“This is something that we must tackle urgently or we will miss out on opportunities to build on our current success with the Chinese,” he was quoted as saying.

Sabah received more than 3.65 million China tourists in 2017, an increase of 430,000 or more than 14% compared with the year before.

The state’s tourism revenue during that period was estimated at about RM7.7 billion.

SCMP also quoted tourism consultant Gary Bowerman, an author of a book on Chinese tourists, as saying that air connectivity was “the critical factor” to drive growth in Chinese arrivals.

“Greater choice and frequency of flights is encouraging different types of travellers to visit – from package tourists to young adventurers, groups of friends to extended families and luxury travellers to business visitors, adding leisure time to their trips,” he was quoted as saying.

However, he added that there could be a downside to relying excessively on the Chinese.

He pointed to South Korea’s tourism industry which had suffered “hugely damaging economic effect” after Chinese tourists stayed away following diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Beijing in 2016.

“The overlap of politics, economics and tourism must be considered by all destinations because China has integrated outbound tourism into its foreign policymaking and trade negotiations,” he was quoted as saying.

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