Australia not lifting Sabah travel advisory for now

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Andrew Goledzinowski (left) with Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.

KOTA KINABALU: Australia said an advisory it issued to its citizens travelling to Sabah is still in place, following an appeal by the state government to lift the advisory in view of improvements in security.

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Andrew Goledzinowski said Canberra could review the advisory in future, but cited a recent incident where four kidnappers were killed by security forces.

“That’s good but they (kidnappers) were there. So, it’s tricky for us to change the advisory. It’s not your fault though,” he said after a meeting with Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew yesterday.

Liew had appealed to Canberra to lift the travel advisory against visiting the east coast of Sabah, on the back of a decline in the number of Australian tourist arrivals over the last two years.

Goledzinowski said the Australian government takes into consideration new information in reviewing its travel advisories.

“We haven’t changed the advisory. It didn’t get worse, and it’s only because we keep getting information from the Malaysian government,” he said.

On its website, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in an update today, advised citizens “exercise normal safety precautions”.

“Reconsider your need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah,” it said.

Meanwhile, Goledzinowski praised the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), saying it has been effective at stopping kidnapping.

He said he would relay Liew’s request to the Australian government.

The Sabah Tourism Board said 30,139 Australians visited the state in 2016, but the number dropped to 24,010 in 2017 and further decreased to 21,482 last year.

Goledzinowski said the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur would do its best to promote Sabah to Australians with a focus on eco-tourism.

He said Liew could also meet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss ways to attract Aussies to Sabah.

“Our prime minister is a ‘professional tourist salesman. That’s what he did before going into politics.

“He was the head of Tourism Australia, and earlier, head of Tourism New Zealand. He could give you some ideas. He only knows Sabah.”

He said unlike other tourists, Australians are not attracted by beaches.

“That will work for the Chinese but not for us. People spend thousands of dollars to see a sun bear or an orangutan or a pygmy elephant.

“This is something they will pay to do. Boutique hotels where the food is good… that’s what Australians want,” he said.