7th March, 2017
By MICHAEL TEH
KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) on Sunday welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister on the extension of the Sandakan airport runway to handle direct flights and chartered flights from China.
“The Prime Minister is far-sighted and such initiatives will boost the Sandakan economy from tourists arrivals,” said its vice president (inbound), Datuk KL Tan.
In a response issued here, he was especially convinced that such a move would significantly boost arrivals of tourists from China in Sandakan which is famed for its beautiful nature and eco-tourism, besides its rich culture and seafood.
“There were 183 Charter flights from China to Kota Kinabalu in 2016 but none directly to Sandakan.
“Sandakan will appeal to Chinese tourist as the Chinese tourists would love the food and culture of Sandakan,” he said.
Tan further noted that after more than a decade of rapid growth, Chinese tourists are now more matured and want to experience authenticity and nature. This was well reflected in the increase in enquiries on Turtle Island, the world-renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
“However for Sandakan town to cater for the influx of Chinese tourists, stakeholders need to work fast to ensure adequacy of shopping, food and beverages outlets, hotels and places of attractions, Mandarin speaking guides and transportation system to meet visitor expectations.
“A glaring setback for Sandakan is the lack of proper beaches for the tourists to enjoy water sports activities,” he added.
He believed that if all the above-mentioned issues are adequately addressed, Sandakan will be able to play a greater role in Sabah tourism and somewhat 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,” he concluded.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak disclosed that the value management was being carried out to determine the contract price for the Sandakan airport runway extension.
He especially noted that once completed, direct or chartered flights from China would be able to use the Sandakan airport.
“The terminal building will remain untouched. We will only focus on the runway extension,” he said.
Najib said the extension of the runway would have a major positive impact on Sandakan’s economy.