Visitors from China to Sabah surge ahead of South Koreans

China has overtaken South Korea as the largest source of international arrivals to Sabah for the first four months of this year (January-April, 2024), said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew.

Based on statistics from the Sabah Tourism Board’s (STB) Research Division, she said that of the total of 396,584 international arrivals for the said period, 135,855 visitors were from China, registering an increase of 1489.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2023.

She made the disclosure during a courtesy call by the General Manager of Xiamen Airlines, Kuala Lumpur Office, Gao Ya Shuang, and its Sales Manager Li Changzhao.

Gao briefed the Minister on Xiamen Airlines’ plans to resume scheduled flights from Fuzhou (capital of Fujian Province) to Kota Kinabalu, effective June 27.

Welcoming the duo to Sabah, Liew said a further surge in international arrivals from China is foreseeable for the rest of the year after June.

“I understand that Fuzhou is one of the main bases of Xiamen Airlines, and from here, one can travel to major cities in all provinces in China.

“Kota Kinabalu is one of its many international destinations.

“This Fuzhou-Kota Kinabalu route is yet another avenue to bring visitors from China to Sabah, and I am confident that it will be a sustainable route,” she said.

Gao recalled that the first route opened by Xiamen Airlines in Sabah was from Fuzhou to Kota Kinabalu, starting in January 2017.

However, the flight service was discontinued in January 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To date, we have carried 135,000 round-trip passengers.

“We are optimistic about achieving success in our plan to expand to Sabah as there is undoubtedly market demand for the Fuzhou-Kota Kinabalu route,” she said.

Gao said the inauguration of the Fuzhou-Sabah route will allow people in Sabah to fly directly to China while also making it easier for Sarawak travelers to travel to China via Kota Kinabalu.

“This is because the flying time from Sabah to Fuzhou is shorter compared to flying to Fuzhou from Kuala Lumpur.

“Hence, Sarawak passengers can save time traveling to Fuzhou via Kota Kinabalu. The Fuzhou-Sabah route could also encourage people from Sarawak to transit in Kota Kinabalu,” she explained.

The General Manager informed the Minister that this year, Xiamen Airlines will begin providing transit accommodation services to passengers whose transit duration in Fuzhou is 6-24 hours.

“This move is to ensure a comfortable transit experience for clients.

“The market we serve goes beyond Sabah and Fuzhou to the rest of East Malaysia and China, with more convenient transfer services from our primary base in Fuzhou. The market potential is tremendous.”

According to Gao, Sabah is a famous travel destination among Chinese tourists, particularly the east coast town of Semporna with its island resorts, diving spots, and fresh seafood.

“As far as Xiamen Airlines is concerned, these attractions are Sabah’s biggest selling point. In fact, during peak season, it is difficult to get room accommodation in Semporna,” she lamented.

During the meeting, Gao suggested that Xiamen Airlines join forces with the Sabah Tourism Board (STB) to promote Sabah in those provinces in China that have not heard about this tourist destination.

Saying Xiamen Airlines has branches or sales offices in various provinces in China, she said: “If the Sabah Tourism Board requires Xiamen Airlines’ support in terms of promotion, our representatives in different locations can collaborate and link the appropriate travel agencies to the Board.

“Xiamen Airlines can collaborate with the Sabah Tourism authorities to jointly carry out promotion activities in major cities in China to attract more visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of Sabah.”

Xiamen Airlines also has its own media agency that can promote Sabah via its many media platforms, including the Internet and onboard, Gao added.

Also present were the Ministry’s Political Secretary Vivien Lee and STB Deputy Chief Executive Officer Tay Shu Lan.

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