Sabah's tourism recovery efforts are showing signs of success with a growing number of direct international and domestic flights flying to the state.
State Assistant Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said international connectivity was making great Sabah accessible within the Southeast Asia region.
"I am pleased to announce that our domestic connection is expanding, with 389 weekly flights now available since the interstate travel ban was lifted late last year and international borders reopened in April this year.
"There were 445 weekly flights before the pandemic.
"Sabah has welcomed five direct international flights and we will receive two more direct flights from Incheon, South Korea, to Kota Kinabalu next week."We are also expecting the Bangkok-Kota Kinabalu direct flight to resume. This is indeed an extremely positive scene for the Sabah tourism industry."
He said this at the launch of the two-day Bazaar Matta at Sunway Velocity Mall here today.
Present were Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang, Tourism Malaysia's domestic and events senior director Iskandar Mirza Mohd Yusof and Sabah Tourism Board chief marketing officer Tay Shu Lan., among others.
Airlines operating direct flights to Kota Kinabalu are Air Asia (via Manila and Singapore), Scoot (via Singapore), Royal Brunei Airlines (via Brunei) and Jin Air (via Incheon).
For domestic travel, Kota Kinabalu has direct flights from Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu, Penang, Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur.
Sandakan and Tawau are also accessible from Kuala Lumpur.
There has also been a growth in domestic and foreign visitors to Sabah, with 408,530 arrivals between January and April.
These include 392,968 domestic tourists and 15,562 foreign tourists.
"This estimate represents a 412 per cent increase over the same period last year.
"For us, this is a promising indicator of people's desire to return to Sabah, to travel and discover new places," said Joniston, who also chairs the Sabah Tourism Board.
He commended Matta for hosting the event and for highlighting Sabah.
"Even though the Bazaar Matta is a smaller travel fair than the usual Matta Fair, the fact that 30 travel agents are taking part this weekend is a good sign that the event is just as important.
"Sabah packages were in high demand at recent travel exhibitions.
"On that note, Sabah Tourism Board encourages visitors to always use licensed travel agents when booking and arranging vacations."
At the bazaar, Sabah will promote and sell domestic travel and tourism packages with prizes to be won, including flight tickets to Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, and Sandakan.
Visitors are entitled to RM100 Boost vouchers.
Tan said the bazaar was Matta's pilot project, adding that it would highlight other states by bringing in travel agents to boost domestic travel.
"We are highlighting Sabah first because tourism is one of its key sectors. There has been an increasing demand for Sabah and its rural destinations."