Sabah eyes 2.8 million tourist arrivals in 2024, hopes for new airport

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah targets 2.8 million tourist arrivals in 2024 as it hopes to eventually see a new airport to be built to cater to the large number of tourists arrivals to the state.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said that tourist arrivals for 2023 are set to hit 2.5 million and projected to grow to about 2.4 million in 2024.

As such, she said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s consideration to put up a new terminal at the existing Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) is a welcomed short term measure to meet the needs of the booming state tourism industry.

However, Liew said that a new airport was necessary as the current KKIA was not able to cope with the growing number of tourists.

In noting that Anwar’s describing Sabah as a “number one” tourists destination in Malaysia, Liew said that there was an immediate need for better facilities at the KKIA including an upgrade of the Immigration and Customs counter at the KKIA to cope with the rising number of tourist arrivals.

In the long-term, she said the state needs a larger and better international airport to cope with arrivals.

Liew said that in the first 10 months of this year, Sabah received a total of 2,116,659 visitors with international tourists making up 659,924 (an increase of 274.9%) while domestic tourists made up 1,456,735 (an increase of 23.4%)

Sabah Tourism Board statistics also estimated tourism receipts for the first 10 months of this year at RM4.42bil, an increase of about 82.1%, compared to RM2.43bil tourism receipts for the same period in 2022.

“The first 10 months of 2023 rebounded to 62% of pre-pandemic levels, led by regional countries such as Brunei, Singapore as well as European countries, according to STB statistics.

“Based on Sabah’s performance over the past 10 months, we can reach 2.5 million visitor arrivals by the end of the year exceeding the 2.2 million target set,” Liew said in a statement to reflect on her ministry’s achievement in 2023.

She said various campaigns launched including her brainchild new tourism tagline “Feel Sabah, North Borneo” in Berlin in March this year as well engagements with major China airlines saw the resumption of direct flights from major cities to Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah tourism delegations to China, Australia and Korea have helped in luring back international tourists to the state.

“We attribute this remarkable growth to improved travel confidence, improved air connectivity and marketing campaigns by the Sabah Tourism Board (STB),” Liew said in urging Sabah’s hoteliers, restaurateurs and tour operators to be reasonable in their tour packages offers as well as in accommodation and food.