5th May, 2013
KOTA KINABALU: The Government of the Republic of Vanuatu (South West Pacific) has chosen Kota Kinabalu to set up its main office in Malaysia to promote eco-based tourism and culture in Southeast Asia.
Vanuatu’s Commissioner of Trade and Economic, Counsellor George N.M.K.Naurai whose office is based in Kuala Lumpur made the decision after a long discussion with his special advisor for tourism and culture, Winston Liaw.
Winston is the president of Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (SATTA) and was appointed by the island nation to advise and report directly to the Vanuatu’s Commissioner of Trade, Tourism and Culture on all matters effective in February 2013.
“After a long discussion with Winston, we came to the tangible idea that KK will be our main office in Malaysia to promote tourism in Southeast Asia while our embassy office in Kuala Lumpur will focus on promoting trade investment,” said George during an interview.
George is making his first visit to Sabah together with his family and representatives on April 30 to May 5, 2013. During the sojourn, he attended the Sabah Fest and paid courtesy call on Kota Kinabalu Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir and Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Tengku Zainal Adlin.
On Thursday, Winston hosted a seafood dinner for the visiting entourage and senior members of the tourism board.
“We have many reasons to promote the tourism sector together because we share a lot of similarity in term of authentic custom and heritage and we intend to preserve this aged-old tradition and develop it into a niche market for the benefit of both nations,” noted George.
“We also want to promote the diving spots such as creating a tour package for visitors to dive in Sabah and Vanuatu as we have many shipwreck spots from World War Two and some beautiful spots in Malagula and Espiritu Santo which is in the north of the capital city of Port Villa,” he shares.
Presently, we are only promoting our financial services, said George who is also an avid diver and assured visitors there are many interesting site to be discovered in the island archipelago which made up of 84 small islands and had population of about 250,000 people.
Vanuatu welcomed some 1,000 divers a year which is relatively low compared to Sabah and we are also planning to tap the tourism potential from the holidays cruise ships come calling at our ports as this year we have recorded 178 visiting ships, he said, adding that about 600,000 general tourists visited the island nation annually.
“So the symbiotic and synergy of our venture is to build up our eco-based nature tourism and to discover our authentic custom to be marketed as our niche products so as to raise the global awareness of Vanuatu as many people thought we are merely a tropical island,” he said.
Besides that, George revealed that they are also in the process to establish a sister city programme to promote the diving exchange between Kota Kinabalu and Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.
“During the meeting, Tengku Adlin has suggested that since Luganville has the diving spot and steeped in custom and tradition, it is more suited to be the ideal sister city for Kota Kinabalu as we share a lot of common similarity, furthermore Port Villa is losing its heritage and authenticity values due to modern development as the natives coming from the outer islands are trying to adopt the western lifestyles,” he said.
“So it is for this reason, Luganville is a better choice for us to pursue the sister city programme as we have a lot of spiritual proceedings in the outer islands. And you won’t believe most of the elderly there never saw a television and listen to radio, but yet they can tell you what exactly happened in the world.
“They can even describe exactly how US president Barack Obama looks like,” shares George of the fascination that Vanuatu could offer to holidaymakers.
“Although the island nation still has many superstitious beliefs but Christian is still the pre-dominant religion while the others are a small percentage of Buddhism and Islam,” he said.
Currently, most of the visitors to Vanuatu are made up of tourists from nearby Australia and New Zealand who wants to get away from the busy city lifestyles and some rich Americans who like outdoor adventure, he said, adding that there are few five-star hotels, resorts and shopping complexes in Port Villa.
In terms of connectivity, we have discussed the possibility of building up an air route from Kota Kinabalu directly to Vanuatu via Papua New Guinea through mounting chartered flights, he said.
Presently, the only air connection to Vanuatu is a 12 hours flight via Sydney from Kuala Lumpur, he said.
Beside tourism, George said the sandalwood industry has also attracted a lot of Chinese investors to the island nation and they had contributed a significant impact to the economy of Vanuatu.
“There are about 3,000 Chinese populations in the island nation and most of them are the second generation of migrants and they had since naturalised. In fact, under the Vanuatu laws, a person can obtain citizenship after 10 years living in the island nation,” said George.