Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Free up Sabah tourism trade to beat foreign competition

Sabah’s tourism has been resilient despite a global recession. About 2.3m tourists come to the east Malaysian state every year to see the orang utans in the jungle, climb its tallest Mount Kinabalu, dive at Sipadan and snorkel in the coral-rich sea that surrounds its many exotic islands. Income from tourism at about 4 billion ringgit ($1.3 billion) is the state’s second biggest after palm oil. But the travel industry and Masidi Manjun, minister of tourism, culture and environment, have warned that Sabah might lose out to competition from Thailand, Vietnam and Australia. Lack of guides proficient in foreign languages and poor guiding may drive tourists away, they say.

At the annual dinner of the Sabah Association of Travel and Tour Agents (Satta) on September 15, Masidi spoke of the need to open the Sabah travel trade to foreign competition just like banking, insurance and other industries.

“The only way for us to become competitive is to make sure the tourism industry is liberalised,” he told representatives of 60 local travel and tour companies. Masidi was responding to complaints from local tour guides that South Korean tour agents were bringing their own guides to conduct tours in Sabah.

Tour companies say tourists are becoming more demanding as countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Australia are aggressively competing with Sabah in nature tours by offering them better services and expertise to satisfy their needs. Tourists from South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are particularly fussy, they say.

Foreigners make up slightly more than half a million of visitors to Sabah. Discounting Indonesians and Filipinos who are mostly job seekers, most Asian tourists are from China and Hong Kong. They make up about 90,000. Next are the South Koreans at 80,000. Other Asian tourists come from Singapore, Japan and Brunei. About 65,000 Europeans visit Sabah; 6,000 of them are Germans and 4,000 are French. Germans and French form the biggest number of European visitors while 32,000 visitors come from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Chan Kok Kong, 58, Satta’s assistant chairman, says a common complaint from tourists is poor guiding. The lack of tour guides who can speak foreign languages has added to the problem. “Most South Koreans speak only their own language,” he says. There is only a handful of guides who speak Japanese, French and German.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Free up Sabah tourism trade to beat foreign competition

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