By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KOTA KINABALU: Sandakan needs more than just an airport runway extension to attract more visitors to the east coast town.
The Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) vice president (Inbound), Datuk KL Tan said in order to cater for the influx of Chinese tourists, stakeholders need to work fast to ensure adequacy of shopping, food and beverages outlets, hotels and places of attraction.
He said more Mandarin-speaking tour guides and a vastly-improved transportation system to meet visitor expectations is also required.
While welcoming the announcement by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on the extension of the Sandakan airport runway to handle direct and chartered flights from China, Tan said:
“For example, a glaring setback for Sandakan is the lack of proper beaches for the tourists to enjoy the sun and water sports activities.”
He believed that if all the above-mentioned issues are adequately addressed, Sandakan will be able to play a greater role in Sabah tourism and somewhat ease the lack of accommodation for Chinese tourists to Kota Kinabalu during the peak season.
“And we certainly welcome a more balanced spread of Chinese tourists to other towns in Sabah,” he concluded.
“The Prime Minister is far-sighted and such initiatives will boost the Sandakan economy from tourists arrivals,” said Tan.
He said he was especially convinced that such a move would significantly boost arrivals of tourists from China in Sandakan which is famed for its beautiful nature and eco-tourism, besides its rich culture and seafood.
“There were 183 Charter flights from China to Kota Kinabalu in 2016 but none directly to Sandakan.
“Sandakan will appeal to Chinese tourist as the Chinese tourists would love the food and culture of Sandakan,” he said.
Tan further noted that after more than a decade of rapid growth, Chinese tourists are now more matured and want to experience authenticity and nature.
This was well reflected in the increase in enquiries on Turtle Island, the world-renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, he said.