Sabah cautioned against allowing mass tourism for now

Chinese tourists in Kota Kinabalu before the movement control order.

KOTA KINABALU: An environment-friendly organisation of tourism operators has welcomed Sabah’s decision to re-open its borders to international travellers on Sept 1 but calls for a delay in allowing large groups to enter the state.

Alexander Yee, president of the Kinabatangan Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association, said it would be better to focus for the time being on attracting what he called “high-yield visitors” than to encourage high influxes of tourists.

“It is pertinent that we don’t lose sight of our positioning as a unique environmental hotspot destination,” he told FMT.

“Mass tourism can be done if we set aside selected locations for those tourists, but on the whole, we should focus on high-yield tourists who will have a less negative impact on our fragile environment.”

He defined “mass tourism” as the movement of large numbers of people in an organised manner to tourist destinations in an unsustainable manner.

Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said last Sunday that travellers from places declared free of Covid-19, including “green regions” in China, would be allowed to visit the state beginning Sept 1.

Yee said there was a potential of mass tourism from China, but he added that it could also be a market for high-yield educational and corporate visitors that the state could tap into.

“Between now and September, I trust our ministry will have looked into and derived some solutions to the problem of zero-fare groups that are mainly from China,” he said.

He also called for a solution to the issue of illegal freelance guides and a workable framework for Airbnb premises.

“These issues were raised before we closed our international borders,” he said. “Now that we are re-starting, it would be good to start on a positive note.”

Hafizan Wong, the acting chairman of the Sabah and Labuan Malaysian Association of Hotels, said hoteliers would still need to work on a tight budget as September was a long way off.

He said domestic tourism in Sabah and Sarawak faced a bigger challenge than experienced in Peninsular Malaysia, primarily over logistics issues.

“For example,” he said, “if you are in Kuala Lumpur, you can and may prefer to drive the whole way through to Kedah or Johor, but you can’t do that with Sabah or Sarawak.

“You will need to fly here, but airfare is costly now and that will affect domestic travel here. That is among our concerns.”

He told FMT he hoped the government would work with airlines to resolve the issue.

He said most hotels in Sabah were now occupied by state residents although some tourists from the peninsula were starting to trickle in.

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