Sabah, the paradise of Malaysia

One of the most diverse areas in Malaysia which entails a rich history, culture, adventure and blessed with the oldest rainforest in the world is a bucket list destination for visitors from across the globe and a new destination to the Middle East visitors. The Honourable Datuk Jafry Ariffin, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah shares with TRATALK.

Shehara Rizly

Give us a brief about Sabah Tourism?

Known as the Land Below the Wind, Sabah lies just below the typhoon belt, with a pleasant tropical climate. Home to the oldest rainforest in the world, Sabah has one of the richest bio-diversities on the planet with 53 per cent of Sabah being covered by forest. Sabah is blessed with amazing nature, wildlife, food and culture. From mountain high to ocean deep,   you can find everything here in Sabah. Catering to all types of tourists, from adventure seekers, nature lovers, leisure travelers, honeymooners and families. The three highest mountains in Malaysia are located here, Mt. Kinabalu (4,095metres), Mt. Trus Madi (2,642metres) and Mt. Tambuyukon (2,579metres). Sabah also has the smallest elephant in the world, the Bornean Pygmy elephant and the largest flower, the Rafflesia!

Sabah entails all interesting natural areas in Malaysia. Could you share details on which areas you will focus on?

As Sabah is blessed with an abundance of nature and cultural heritages, it is natural that our focus would be on these two areas. In the coastal area, it highlight our long stretch beaches and the many islands such as Sipadan Island (world top diving sites), Marine Conservation Parks such as the Turtle Islands Park and leisure islands such as Mataking and Kapalai that rival the Maldives Islands for every traveller’s desire. Beaches in the west coast of Sabah are one of the best spots to view the sunset. After all, Kota Kinabalu has been listed by Huffington Post among the top eight great places to watch the sunset in the world.

In the highlands, we have the Kinabalu Park home to the majestic Mt. Kinabalu and also Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. Then there is Crocker Range Park. These are the parks which have all the three highest mountains in Malaysia. Kinabalu Park is also a National GeoPark, and running to be an Aspiring Kinabalu UNESCO Global Geopark. With this in place, Sabah will be the first in Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region to receive the UNESCO triple crown award.

Our rainforests are home to some of the unique wildlife in the world. The Orangutan, the Proboscis Monkey that is only found in the island of Borneo, the Bornean Pygmy Elephant, Bornean Sunbear and many more. All the animals can be seen in their natural habitat in Sukau, Danum Valley and Tabin.

Cultural experience is best experienced in the rural areas through Homestay and Community Based Tourism (CoBT). In fact, the Batu Puteh Village CoBT programme received the Best Tourism Village Award in Madrid, Spain during the 24th UNWTO general assembly on December 2, 2021. Another village that received international recognition is Kadamaian as a recipient for ASEAN Community Based Tourism Standard 2019-2021 at the Asean Tourism Ministers’ Conference 2019 held in Hanoi, Vietnam.

As we embark on the post-COVID-19, what are the initiatives or new tourism strategies to re-introduce this destination to the ME travellers?

The Middle East market often visit Penang, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur. Sabah is a new destination in the ME market and we need to introduce Sabah as a new destination in Malaysia. Once the Malaysian  borders are open, STB will conduct a joint campaign with UAE Airlines to conduct a tour agents, media and social media influencer familiarization trip to Sabah.

What are the features/attractions for the Middle East visitors?

STB will focus on the beach resort, Islands and top diving sites in Sabah coupled with the nature and adventure activities that are popular among the tourists visiting Sabah. The ME will also be spoilt for choices of five-star resort and chain hotel properties in Sabah namely Shangri-la two properties — Hilton, Marriot, LeMeridien and other local five star resorts. They will also be able to enjoy the fresh seafood in Sabah. Sabah is a destination to enjoy nature, adventure and a great holiday destination for families, fit and groups. Visit Sabah Tourism website on Sabah, Malaysian Borneo official website offers travel destinations, map, activities, news and updates, accommodation listing for Sabah Malaysian Borneo.

As there is a separate airport and sea port, will there be any possibility of opening it to the ME travellers soon? If so, could you share a timeline?

The Kota Kinabalu International Airport and the Kota Kinabalu International Cruise Terminal have received many national and international visitors. Before COVID-19, 11 international airlines flew direct daily and schedule flights to Sabah through KKIA. Meanwhile KKICT have received the berths of many cruise ships such as the Queen Mary II, MS Magellan, Aidavista, Carnival Splendors and Seven Seas Voyager to name a few. The KKIA and KKICT are open for visitors from all over the world. ME travellers are more than welcome to visit Sabah. Perhaps carriers from ME region could consider flying directly to Sabah as our airports are ready to receive international carriers.

We are optimistic that international visitors may be able to visit Sabah by 2022 once rules/regulations/SOPs for them are made available.

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