Sunday, September 12, 2010

Air travel booms in Sabah

KKIA is getting busier as travellers snap up cheap tours

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) is Malaysia’s second busiest after Kuala Lumpur's. It serves almost 5m passengers a year compared with Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s 30m. And it’s getting busier: national carrier Malaysia Airlines will make its eastern operational hub there in November which will see more flights from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Thousands of cheap air tickets were snapped up at a recent travel fair in Kota Kinabalu that has signalled a travel boom buoyed by a stronger ringgit against the American dollar and other currencies.

Last month’s travel fair of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) saw millions of ringgit changed hands in two days as travellers bought air tickets and tours at discounts of between 15% and half of their usual prices. Exhibitors at the fair increased from 35 last year to 50 this year.

“It’s amazing,” said Chang Fu-Nan, 53, director of Taiwan Tourism Bureau. “In just half a day, we sold 100 tours to Taiwan.” It was his first experience at the fair and his bureau aimed to sell 500 tours in two days. The four- or eight-day tours cost between 1,500 and 4,000 ringgit ($482 and $1,286) each. Chang’s bureau sold more than one million ringgit worth of tours.

This, travel industry sources say, testifies to how rich Sabahans are. The Malaysian economy booms while the rich world is struggling to recover from a recession. Prime minister Najib Razak expects his country’s economy to grow by 6% and is thinking of allowing offshore trading of the ringgit after it was banned 12 years ago at the height of the Asian financial crisis.

Bank Negara, central bank, has recently allowed ringgit settlement of offshore trade in goods and services as the ringgit has been strengthening on the back of two quarters of strong economic growth and higher interest rates.

About 35,000 Sabahans out of 170,000 Malaysians visited Taiwan last year. About a fifth of the 145,000 Malaysians who travelled to Taiwan during the first half of this year were Sabahans, according to Chang.

MAS has announced that it will put six Boeing 737s, two of the them new, in Kota Kinabalu to launch weekly flights to Haneda in Tokyo on November 15. There will be twice weekly flights to Osaka from January 15 and two more flights to Seoul. The new planes, Boeing 737-800, each carries 160 passengers including 16 in business class. Each of the four Boeing 737-400 seats 144, with 16 in business class.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Air travel booms in Sabah

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