Friday, December 31, 2010

Maswings offer low online deals with Sabah and Sarawak

MASWINGS is offering super low online deals from RM25 for travels within Sarawak and Sabah from Jan 1 to Jan 11. The travel time is between Jan 3 and April 30.

“This is the best time to take advantage of these great bargains as fares are really low. It demonstrates our commitment to provide customers with quality, affordability and convenience at all times” said MASwings head of marketing, Haslah Ayub.

“We invite our customers to grab this incredible opportunity to make their travel experience truly exciting. We also advice our customers to plan their travel well in advance.”

Kota Kinabalu fares start from as low as RM35 to Labuan, Tawau and Miri; RM37 to Lahad Datu and Sandakan; RM45 to Bintulu; RM46 to Sibu; RM47 to Mulu and RM72 to Kuching. Fares from Sandakan to Tawau fare is priced at RM25.

For destinations from Miri, offers start from RM25 to Bintulu, Mulu and Limbang; RM27 to Labuan and RM37 to Sibu. Fares from Sibu are as low as RM25 to Bintulu and RM52 to Limbang.

Continue reading at: Maswings offer low online deals with Sabah and Sarawak
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sipadan dive permit quota to stay

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will not increase its daily permits for diving at Sipadan island.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the move to maintain a 120 daily dive permit quota is to ensure preservation of Sipadan’s environment.

He said Sipadan, which is part of the Semporna marine area, was only recently endorsed as the richest marine bio-diversity spot on Earth by a team of top scientists, remained a favourite tourist spot with a waiting list that stretches up to seven months.

“If we do not protect and conserve our environment, the tourism industry will not be able to thrive because the environment is the asset for the tourism industry,” he said, in reiterating he state is taking the necessary steps to preserve its natural heritage.

He said similar measures to preserve the environment was also taken for Mount Kinabalu where the number of climbers are limited to 192 a day.

“No matter how many visitors we have, we have to do something to prevent these flora and fauna from being affected,” he added.

He said the Sabah government would not be implementing any physical development at internationally renowned rainforest research center in the Danum Valley and also the bio-diversity rich Maliau Basin which is also known as the ‘Lost World’.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sipadan dive permit quota to stay
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Sarawak still tourists’ favourite destination

SIBU: Tourists, despite having to pay more for their accommodation still considers Malaysia, Sarawak in particular, their favourite destination in the Asean region.

“Malaysia, or Sarawak for that matter, is blessed with myriads of tourism products and remains among the cheapest tourist destinations in the region,” said Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) Sarawak chapter’s liaison officer for Sibu, Roy Ting.

It was augmented with quality tourism players and products, thus boosting tourists’ confidence and satisfaction, he added.

“As such, the presence of these feel good or ‘Wow’ factors will offset tourists’ concern over costlier rooms,” Ting said.

He asserted that since the benefits far outweighed the cost, the minimal hike in room rates would not turn tourists away from Malaysia or Sarawak.

“Furthermore, tourists are prepared to spend whenever they travel.

The way I see it, domestic tourism will continue to grow next year,” Ting told The Borneo Post yesterday.

He was asked to respond to the call of Sarawak Central Region Hotel Association chairman Johnny Wong Sie Lee on hotels affected by the increase in service tax to up their room rates.

Wong had also been quoted to have said budget hotels were expected to downsize their business next year to avoid the higher service tax and thereby, sustain their business.

Scaling down the argument to the local front, managing director of Equitorial Tours and Travel Sdn Bhd Robert Tan reckoned that backpackers and salesmen might feel the pinch as they usually stayed in budget hotels.

Conversely, tourists opted for three- to four-star hotels when visiting Sibu as their rates were still competitive compared to places such as Kuching and Kuala Lumpur, he said.

Citing an example, he pointed out that a room rate here (inclusive of breakfast) was about RM150 per night while that in KL could easily go beyond RM500.

Continue reading at: Sarawak still tourists’ favourite destination
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KKIA terminal expected to be fully-operational by end of January

Kota Kinabalu: The extended Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) terminal is expected to be fully-operational by end of January, leaving only works on the runway to be completed.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha when visiting the airport to check on the progress of its expansion, said works on resurfacing the existing runway and its extension from 2,988 metres to 3,780 metres is expected to take about a year's time to finish, and will commence around end of next month too.

"The resurfacing is to patch up some of the potholes, but it will take a long time because it's more difficult, as the existing runway will be used the whole day maybe until midnight, and the contractor may only have a window period of about four hours in the middle of the night to work on it.

"It is also very time consuming, as the total resurfacing of runway consists of three layers and one day they can only do about 40 metres, and that 40 metres you have to do three times ... so it will take about a year," he said, after the inspection accompanied by Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharudin Abd Rahman.

He said once it is fully completed, there will be no time constraint and the runway can be used almost 24 hours.

AirAsia which is currently operating at Terminal Two, is also expected to shift its operation into the main terminal here by next year, once everything is in place.

Continue reading at: KKIA terminal expected to be fully-operational by end of January
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long waiting list for Sipadan visit

Sipadan Island remains the favourite dive spot for tourists with a waiting list that stretches up to seven months, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun said.

Masidi said the government had taken steps towards protecting the environment, including limiting the number of tourists to Mount Kinabalu and Sipadan Island.

“No matter how many tourists we have, we have to do something to prevent these flora and fauna from being affected.”

He added that the preservation of wildlife at Danum Valley was also being taken seriously by the government.

“In order to ensure the animals do not become victims of illegal poaching, the government has stopped all road upgrading projects,” he said at the opening ceremony of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) dance festival here on Sunday.

The festival attracted more than 300 participants from higher learning institutions from Brunei, Sarawak and Kalimantan.

Continue reading at: Long waiting list for Sipadan visit
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sandakan tourism to be revitalised when heritage trails completed

SANDAKAN: A well known tourist attraction here has been given a new lease of life.

The Sandakan Heritage Trails (SHT) took visitors to some of the oldest landmarks around the town dating back to nearly a century including a mosque, a few temples and a church.

The unveiling of a new giant SHT billboard at the open space next to CIMB Bank in the heart of town by Sandakan Municipal Council president Datuk James Wong marked the beginning of upgrading works on trail to be implemented in stages.

Besides the new signage, several smaller ones would be placed at selected heritage sites to guide visitors using this trail, SHT Committee 2010 chairman Lai King Hang disclosed this after the launch of the new billboard.

Lai said there would be floor indications and logo of the Sandakan Heritage Trail along the way as additional guidance.

He added that a literature called ‘Guide to Sandakan Heritage Trail’ would also be published in due course detailing the stories and significant of each individual heritage sites.

“When fully completed, SHT will be one of the best walking trail in Sabah.

“It is a unique representation of Sandakan being the former capital of British North Borneo which was almost totally destroyed during World War II,” he said.

Lai added that history and past memories would be revealed through these heritage sites, so that more visitors could appreciate their place in the history of Sandakan’s town.

The 11 sites under SHT are Masjid Jamik next to Wisma Sandakan, William Pryer Monumentat Sandakan Municipal Council Square, 100 Steps, Agnes Keith House, Old Stairs, Goddess of Mercy Temple, Singapore Road, St Michael’s and All Angels Church, Sam Sing Kung Temple, Malaysia Fountain, Tourist Information Centre (Wisma Warisan) and Sandakan Heritage Museum (Wisma Warisan).

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sandakan tourism to be revitalised when heritage trails completed
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Friday, December 24, 2010

2010 Christmas greetings from e-borneo.com


A Blessed Merry Christmas from all staff at e-borneo.com and our travel company, E-BORNEO.COM TOURS & TRAVEL SDN BHD to all our clients, travel partners and web visitors who are celebrating Christmas.

Please take note that our office will be closed on the following days:

* Friday, 24 December 2010 (afternoon) - Sunday, 26 December 2010

* Friday, 31 December 2010 (afternoon) - Sunday, 02 January 2011

May the spirit of Christmas bring u peace,
The gladness of Christmas give u hope, and
The warmth of Christmas grant u love

May the miracle of Christmas fill your heart with warmth and love.
Christmas is the time of giving and sharing.
It is the time of loving and forgiving.

Merry Tropical Christmas to Everyone from sunny Sabah Malaysian Borneo!

Best regards,

Management and Staff

E-BORNEO.COM TOURS & TRAVEL SDN BHD (862652-M ; KPL/LN 6169)
[ Travel Company of e-borneo.com ]

Lot No. 7, 2nd Floor, Block C
Lintas Jaya Uptownship 88200 Penampang
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Malaysia
Tel: +6-088-722606
Fax: +6-088-727606
URL: http://www.e-borneo.com/

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Semporna has the world’s highest marine biodiversity

KOTA KINABALU: A 17-day study of coral reefs off the Sabah east coast Semporna district has reaffirmed that the area has the world’s highest marine biodiversity.

But the study involving Malaysian and Dutch researchers unearthed some disturbing information – the area is under serious threat with only 5% of coral studied deemed in excellent condition and another 23% in good condition.

The study was jointly organised by WWF-Malaysia, the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity (NCB) Natura­lis, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Universiti Malaya.

Expedition co-leader Dr Bert Hoeksema of NCB said the Nov 29 to Dec 18 study found a staggering 43 mushroom coral species in waters off the 50 islands off Sem­porna.

He said the previous recorded richness of this family was 40 species at several sites off Sulawesi, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Dr Hoeksema said the study found 844 fish species and more than 90 coral shrimp species, rivalling the highest counts in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Dr Hoeksema disclosed this yesterday when releasing preliminary results of the expedition.

But he said researchers found that nearly all the areas studied had been impacted by damaging human activities – fish bombing, discarded fishing gear and solid waste.

Continue reading (Incl.Pic) at: Semporna has the world’s highest marine biodiversity
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MASwings to expand its Sabah and Sarawak routes

MASWINGS is set to expand its Sabah and Sarawak routes due to growing demand.

Managing director Datuk Mohd Salleh Ahmad Tabrani said since its establishment in Sarawak and Sabah in 2007 with 450 flights per week, demand had increased up to about 900 flights per week in 2010.

“This represents a growth of more that 100% over a three-year period,” he said during the MASwings Agent and Media Appreciation Dinner in Kuching on Saturday.

He said that translated to about 45,000 passengers per month in 2007 to about 104,000 per month in 2010, an increase of more than 130%.

“This great success would not be possible if not for the strong support and contribution of the agents and the media. MASwings will continue to further develop and explore business opportunities in Sabah and Sarawak.

“MASwings is looking forward to developing new and innovative travel and tourism packages and products that could further increase Sabah and Sarawak’s inbound and outbound tourism and air travel,” added Salleh.

Meanwhile, MASwings is offering great bargains at only RM80 for travels from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan, Tawau, Sandakan and Lahad Datu.

Customers connecting from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu can enjoy fares from RM115. The all-inclusive fares quoted are for one way travel only.

The “Year End Extravaganza” sale is from Dec 16 - 31 with tickets available at Malaysia Airlines and MASwings ticketing counter, call centre, internet booking (www.maswings.com.my) and travel agents.

Continue reading at: MASwings to expand its Sabah and Sarawak routes
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Monday, December 20, 2010

AirAsia proposes low-cost terminal for Kota Kinabalu

Budget carrier AirAsia Bhd has officially written to Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) to inform that the airline does not require aerobridges at the upcoming permanent low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) or KLIA 2, says Group Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Dr Tony Fernandes.

He justified that aerobridges would only add to the airline’s cost but, however, suggested that aerobridges may be useful during wet weather.

Fernandes explained that AirAsia’s aim to remain a budget airline, offering the lowest fare for everyone, would be lost if cost goes up to the passenger.

Ultimately, passenger will have to pay for any additional cost incurred by the airline.

“We have confirmed in writing to MAHB that we do not require aerobridges at KLIA 2. We have made our representation officially.

“But, we suggested six to eight aerobridges for use during wet weather. The airline will pay for the use of the aerobridge which will be charged accordingly by MAHB,” he told reporters here recently.

AirAsia previously resisted using aerobridges at the current temporary LCCT to keep its cost structure low and in keeping with its quick turnaround time.

Fernandes had on previous occasions echoed that “the solution would be to have some aerobridges so that if it rains very heavily, we can use it and pay for it then. I think our passengers still want lower fares”.

Continue reading at: AirAsia proposes low-cost terminal for Kota Kinabalu
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Sarawak homestay call to upgrade tourism products

HOMESTAY operators in Sarawak are urged to upgrade the quality of their promotion and services to be more competitive.

“The operators must diversify and upgrade our tourism products. Accommodation is not the main attraction in this programme but instead products and our lifestyle are the pull factors,” said Bekenu assemblywoman Rosey Yunus at a Homestay Carnival 2010 dinner organised by Sarawak Homestay Association on Saturday in Miri.

She added that remote areas in the state which are still accessible were among those that had great potential to be developed under the homestay programme.

Rosey also urged operators to upgrade their services and marketing strategy by utilising the Internet.

“We have to be ready for the influx of bookings through the Internet too. If possible, we should not turn down any bookings,” she said.

One of Miri’s successful homestay operators Abdul Gani Kamit, who is the coordinator for Kedayan Homestay in Bekenu, said the homestay programme in his area had been picking up with local and foreign guests.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak homestay call to upgrade tourism products
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sabah and Sarawak to synergize strategies for tourism development

MIRI: The Sabah and Sarawak government will take advantage of its various joint promotions and marketing, by using the collaboration within the government to government (G2G) commitment.

Permanent secretary of Ministry of Tourism and Heritage Datu Ik Pahon Joyik said the two states could work closer to discover the great tourism potential of the respective states.

“Sabah and Sarawak could work together to conceptualise strategies that draw on each other’s strengths and gain from the synergy that comes

from working together,” he said, at a dinner in conjunction with the 2nd Sabah-Sarawak Joint Tourism Co-operation and Collaboration Meeting at Marina Bay Seafood Restaurant, yesterday.

Pahon pointed out that the two states have steadily re-oriented their tourism strategies, approaches, programmes and activities by developing a framework of co-operation to be

pursued in marketing and promoting the tourist destinations of Sabah and Sarawak.

He said further that the two states shared common tourism resources which provide high quality cultural, adventure and nature (CAN) tourism.

In reality, heritage sites are the market niche of the Sabah and Sarawak tourism industry.

Thus, joint promotion of two heritage sites, Mount Kinabalu from Sabah and Mulu from Sarawak, will be undertaken.

Sabah and Sarawak have also come up with a joint calendar event and budget next year, which will be submitted to federal level for fund approval.

Among the joint calendar events for next year are; Keamatan-Gawai, Borneo International Yachting Challenge (BIYC) and War Memorial Service.

Continue reading at: Sabah and Sarawak to synergize strategies for tourism development
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Borneo’s first water theme park in Miri

MIRI: Sarawak will have its first water theme park in Miri next year.

Costing about RM7 million, it is believed to be the first of its kind in Borneo and the biggest in the country.

The project is being undertaken by one of the state’s major housing developer — Miri Housing Development Realty Sdn Bhd.

Its executive chairman Dato Lau Siu Wai said the project, which would be located at a 36 acre site in Senadin, was approved recently by the State Planning Authority (SPA).

It will be developed in three stages.

Preparatory works on the first phase of the 12 acres started about three months ago.

Construction works are expected to start after Chinese New Year next year.

“After the completion of 8,000 houses in Senadin, this project is part of my humble effort and the company’s to bring speedy development to Miri, especially to boost tourism and recreation.

“If there are no such parks in Sabah, this will be the first in East Malaysia, and probably the first in Borneo and also the biggest in Malaysia,” Lau told The Borneo Post yesterday.

The proposed Senadin Water Theme Park will boast swimming pools, wave generators, water slides and canoe tracks.

Lau added that the theme park was part of the 80 acres project to be carried out within three years time.

“The whole project will cost between RM300-RM350 million, and once completed it could further enhance recreation, business and training facilities for the benefit of both local and foreigners, including tourists,” he stressed.

Other facilities to be made available at the water theme park include shopping complex, cultural village, amphitheatre, hotel and a proposed man-made island (11-12 acres).

Continue reading (Incl.Pic) at: Borneo’s first water theme park in Miri
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MASwings offers cheap fares within East Malaysia

KOTA KINABALU: Tickets were on sale from yesterday customers celebrating the New Year with MASwings “Year End Extravaganza” sale with all-inclusive fares from RM70 for travel within East Malaysia.

Enjoy great bargains at only RM80 for travels from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan, Tawau, Sandakan and Lahad Datu.

Customers connecting from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu can enjoy fares from RM115. The all-inclusive fares quoted are for one way travel only. The sale started from yesterday until Dec 31, 2010 with tickets available at Malaysia Airlines and MASwings ticketing counters, call centre, Internet booking (www.maswings. com.my) and travel agents.

Head of Commercial MASwings, Azlan Awang Tanjong, said yesterday, “We are delighted to offer our customers great bargains in conjunction with the holiday and festive season.

“We are offering 350,000 seats for sale and we hope people will take this advantage to travel during our promotional period.”

The travelling period for the ‘Year End Extravaganza’ is from Dec 18, 2010 to Aug 31, 2011 and is subject to three days advanced purchase period or more prior to the departure date.

Continue reading at: MASwings offers cheap fares within East Malaysia
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Limbang national park proposal submitted

KUALA LAWAS in Limbang is expected to be the next national park covering aquatic and marine areas in Sarawak.

Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) general manager Wilfred Landong said the area had been identified and the proposal to gazette it as a Totally Protected Area (TPA) had been submitted to the Controller’s Office for further action.

“We have proposed it to be gazetted as a TPA because of the diversity in marine life and it is a very important habitat for endangered species like dugongs, dolphins and turtles,” he told The Star during a break for the 10th Hornbill Workshop in Miri yesterday.

Other national parks covering aquatic and marine areas are Similajau (Bintulu), Miri-Sibuti, Loagan Bunut (Miri), Tanjung Datu, Talang Satang, Kuching Wetland (Kuching), Maludam (Sri Aman) and Rajang Mangroves (Sibu).

Landong said SFC and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) had also planned a long-term collaboration to monitor and conduct research on the marine biodiversity and habitats, particularly on seagrass, dugongs, turtles and fishery resources in the area.

Earlier, UMS marine mammal research unit head Dr Saifullah A Jaaman said Lawas, located in the southwest section of the Brunei Bay, had a unique and special marine ecosystem which consisted of mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs, estuaries, sandy beaches, mud flats and continental slopes.

Continue reading at: New Limbang national park proposal submitted
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70-ft X'mas tree for first outdoor carnival in Kota Kinabalu


Kota Kinabalu: Sabahans will be treated to the first ever outdoor "X'mas Carnival" where they will see a 70-feet high Christmas tree and a magical winter atmosphere, among others, courtesy of Celcom Axiata Berhad.

The carnival will be launched today (Thursday) at 7pm by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun at Padang Merdeka and will end on Jan. 2.

"Celcom is always looking for different occasions to celebrate with our customers and, therefore, we are thrilled to present the X'mas Carnival featuring a gigantic Christmas tree and winter wonderland to our loyal customers and public in Sabah," said Celcom Regional General Manager, Sabah, Zurinah Datuk Hanafiah.

Visitors are in for a treat viewing the giant Christmas tree, boasting more than 60,000 LED lights, a snowy experience at the winter wonderland, meeting with the carnival's own Santa Claus and basking in the magical moment of Christmas carolling, she said.

The X'mas Carnival is also being held in Kuching Sarawak, to be launched a day later.

She said that during the carnival Celcom would be offering special promotions.

To share the true meaning and joy of the festive season, Celcom also encourages visitors to the X'mas Village to bring gifts for the less fortunate children.

Continue reading at: 70-ft X'mas tree for first outdoor carnival in Kota Kinabalu
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Borneo Jazz' set to dazzle in 2011

KUCHING: Minister of Tourism and Heritage Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan announced yesterday that ‘Miri International Jazz Festival’ (MIJF) is now renamed as ‘Borneo Jazz’.

Dr Chan who is also deputy chief minister made this announcement at a press conference at his office in Wisma Bapa Malaysia.

“The rationale behind this change is to set the event on par with other international festivals. This renaming is also to capitalise on the destination, Borneo, a name that evokes images of a magical destination,” he explained.

This change, he added, will provide a new image to reflect the vibrancy of the festival as well as destination.

“As part of STB’s (Sarawak Tourism Board) transformation and continuous improvement, the festival is now geared towards a commercial basis in order to bring it to greater heights,” he said.

Among other improvements made for the festival is that it will be extended to a four day event and held from May 12 to 15, said Dr Chan.

“Next year, the festival will kick-off with the opening night on May 12 which will be open to the general public. There will also be musical meetings in the afternoon of the festival on Saturday, which is then interlude by a Sunday matinee,” he said.

According to STB CEO Dato’ Rashid Khan, new initiatives have been planned under the transformation.

“Among them, the Internship and Volunteers Program whereby STB as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), will collaborate with the academia as part of an industry advisory platform in enhancing the quality of graduates that is relevant to the needs of the industry,” said Rashid.

He also said that the program will provide a unique learning experience for international volunteers and interns while exposing them to Sarawak’s culture, nature and adventure.

“The aim is to have 70 per cent students from outside Sarawak as participants of this programme. This is another step towards bringing the festival into the international arena,” he added.

He added that STB aims to attract 10,500 visitors to the festival and 60 per cent are expected to be foreigners.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: 'Borneo Jazz' set to dazzle in 2011
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sarawak travel agencies cry foul over new fee rule

THE new travel agent consultation fees, proposed under an industry-wide guideline that comes into effect Jan 1, might not receive full immediate support from agencies in Sarawak.

Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agencies (Matta) Sarawak chairman Mathew Chen said even he was unsure whether to charge the fees at his own agency.

“In a developing state like ours, sometimes certain new policies and proposals are not easily accepted. How and when agencies charge the fees will depend on the market,” Chen told reporters in Kuching yesterday, prior to a Matta roadshow to explain the fees.

The fees are between RM30 for domestic inquiries and up to RM500 for the corporate sector. The Matta guideline concerns the number of quotations prospective customers requests, which the national association said must be reduced.

In a press statement, Matta claimed the new consultation fees would cut down on confusion, streamline the industry, and even improve customer service.

Presently, it added, prospective customers were asking for too many revisions, and getting quotations from too many travel agencies. It said that kind of competition had in fact reduced productivity.

“In fact, the Sarawak chapter is very supportive of the national association’s new initiative. This is what is done overseas too. Our long term plan is to materialise the initiative,” Chen said.

Continue reading at: Sarawak travel agencies cry foul over new fee rule
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Mount Kinabalu Climbathon brings out the best in veterans

DESPITE a slower finish compared to his debut outing last year, veteran competitor Yee Choi fulfilled his goal to be among the finishers in the men’s veteran (above 40 years) section for the second consecutive year at the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah recently.

After clocking a respectable 5’23 to finish in 28th position last year, the 56-year-old businessman returned with a time of 6’09 in his second appearance at the gruelling race.

Yee Choi admitted that it was easier to complete the challenging route in the veteran section because of the less demanding cut-off mark to reach Low’s Peak, covering a distance of 8.72km on the uphill climb within three-and-half hours before the three-hour regulation period on the downhill return trip to the finish line near the Kinabalu Park headquarters.

“I was not as fast as last year. I got to the summit nine minutes before the cut-off time (3’21) and took a brief breather to soak up the atmosphere.

“I also asked someone to take a picture of me. I was in a more relaxed mood in my second attempt. From my previous experience, I knew that I do not need to rush on the way down and I will make it to the finish line in three hours,” he said.

For the past 15 years, Yee Choi has been keeping fit through his exploits in running and trekking.

“I have developed the endurance foundation through running. I have been featuring in road races between seven to 100km over the years. But, it is a totally different ball game tackling the Mount Kinabalu climb. It is not a walk in the park because only a small percentage of entries will last the distance. Although it was not an easy task, it is achievable with proper preparation for the climb.

“I have complemented my training programme with trekking to adapt to the rough trail terrain. I have also learned the techniques to ascend and descend quicker with the experiences gained from trekking.

“The trick is to be ready to push hard right from the start to get to the Low’s Peak. The first half is the toughest and it is less taxing on the way down,” said Yee Choi.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Mount Kinabalu Climbathon brings out the best in veterans
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Gaya Xmas do begins tomorrow

KOTA KINABALU: The Yuletide mood is here again with the Gaya Christmas Celebration 2010, which starts tomorrow.

The four-day event will be held from 6pm to 11pm at Gaya Street and Lintasan Deasoka, said City Hall public relations officer Syron Tunggolou.

Jointly organised by the Sabah Council of Churches and Kota Kinabalu City Hall, the celebration is now into its sixth year.

There will be numerous activities including street carolling.

The Tenghilan Bamboo Sound orchestra will provide a Borneo touch to the Christmas celebrations.

“The public can also expect to be serenaded by choir performances as well as appearances by musician Roger Wang,” Syron said.

She added that other performances would be a Christmas dance and a sketch titled Love by SIB Metro, a Christmas Accapella by the D Notes Music School and performances by Velvet.

Continue reading at: Gaya Xmas do begins tomorrow
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

A trip to explore new diving spots in Sabah

Sipadan Island in Sabah needs little introduction as a diving site of extraordinary appeal and is especially renowned for big fish encounters, wall diving and drift dives. However, the popularity of this "untouched piece of art" as Jacques Costeau once remarked, has overshadowed other equally fascinating dive sites in the area.

In a bid to introduce and promote other dive sites in Sabah, Tourism Malaysia and Sabah Tourism Board are organising a special familiarisation trip for 19 local and international media and tour agents from December 14 - 18. According to a press release, the participants are from Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Through the trip, it is hoped that the media participants can highlight these dive destinations in their publications while tour agents can create new diving packages to these locations.

The trip aims to open the eyes of the participants to other lesser known, but equally beautiful dive sites in Sabah such as Si Amil, Denawan, Mantabuan, Sibuan and Bohey Dulang.

As many as 101 dive spots have been identified by a scout team of avid divers who hope to bring greater attention to Sabah's other dive site jewels.

These sites are listed in the Sabah 101 Dive Treasures brochure, which also promotes Sabah's many islands such as Mataking, Pom Pom, Sibuan, Siamil and Pulau Tiga.

The brochure also provides a directory of dive operators, resorts and a map of diving locations in Sabah. It can be obtained for free from Tourism Malaysia's Tourist Information Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Sabah.

For more information contact Ms Trecey J Tojuka, Tourism Malaysia Sabah at +088 211 732/248 698 or email, tracey@tourism.gov.my or visit www.tourism.gov.my.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday
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Hop on, hop off bus tours plan for Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu: New tourism products are in the pipeline to make the city a preferred, tourist-friendly, hospitable and unique destination.

DBKK Advisory Board's Tourism, Culture and International Relations Committee Chairperson Datuk Nancy Ho said: "We want a 1Malaysia Tour of KK City that includes a heritage and cuisine tour, besides viewing and exploring KK on foot through a heritage walk, sightseeing on a bicycle and a Hop On, Hop Off bus tour.

"Perhaps them Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry can work with us to develop some brochures on a good 'walk map' for the city so that visitors can know KK City at a glance and visit heritage sites such as the Atkinson Clock Tower."

Asked on the progress of the bicycle route proposal from Tanjung Aru to Yayasan Sabah building, Ho said a presentation on bicycle lanes had been made to DBKK and to wait for the Mayor to announce the details.

Ho also spoke of the possibility of establishing an area where all the top restaurants and eateries are located to facilitate visitors' sampling of different varieties of local food and delicacies from the various communities.

Also in the pipeline are plans to introduce a fair price accreditation system for shops to ensure that tourists don't feel ripped off by unscrupulous traders.

"KK City Hall will be rating and accrediting shops that meet a certain standard so that tourists have complete confidence in shopping for their needs.

"We want tourists to feel that they have walked into a city that is conscientious about good and ethical service practices."

Ho said City Hall will determine the benchmark for fair price accreditation but setting the right standard takes time.

"We hope to make it happen within two years. First, we will have a team of inspectors to go round and look at some of the shops in terms of their layout, merchandising and service attitude. This is part and parcel of hospitality.

Continue reading at: Hop on, hop off bus tours plan for Kota Kinabalu
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flight routes from South Korea and Japan may lift Sarawak Tourism

SARAWAK’S private tourism sector is cautiously optimistic that next year will be a better year in terms of tourist arrivals from developed countries.

The sector is banking on two new flight routes from South Korea and Japan, which will begin in mid-January.

However, concerns remain on whether the new flight routes will be sustainable. Also, it does not help that arrivals from rich nations like Singapore have dropped.

According to latest Tourism and Heritage Ministry figures, Singaporean arrivals shrunk 19% (to just 31,000) in the first 10 months of this year.

“Arrivals from rich countries is very important,” Sarawak Tourism Federation president Audry Wan Ullok told StarMetro in an interview.

“Sometimes, the figures seem very gloomy, but the industry must remain positive because of the new flights. The tourism board has been asked to step up marketing overseas.”

On the decrease of arrivals from rich nations, she said the right kind of awareness had not been generated overseas. Sarawak was facing stiff competition from destinations like Bali and Bangkok.

The Internet, she added, had levelled the marketing capabilities for poorer nations.

She said that targeted segments might not have been suitable, highlighting that the youth market was largely untapped.

“In places like Singapore, the Education Ministry is encouraging its students to visit lesser-developed countries like our’s. We should work towards attracting more tourists of that kind.”

This, she said, was because the younger tourists were more adventurous and willing to visit rural areas.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Flight routes from South Korea and Japan may lift Sarawak Tourism
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Give a taste of Sarawak for tourists, restaurants urged

RESTAURANTS in Sarawak have been urged to not only serve Western and Asian cuisines but also local food.

Environment and Public Health Assistant Minister Datuk Peter Nansian Ngusie said this would give tourists a taste of Sarawak, thus complementing tourism industry.

He urged local entrepreneurs to venture into wine-making for international markets.

“Our entrepreneurs need to be creative to penetrate the markets overseas,” he said during the opening of Absolute Tribal, a Thai restaurant at Hills Shopping Mall in Kuching.

Absolute Tribal chief executive officer Gerald Goh said the restaurant could be a platform for the introduction of the unique tastes of Sarawak.

“Our menus have local elements such as kangkong belacan, fishball soup and others,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Give a taste of Sarawak for tourists, restaurants urged
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sabah tourism boon via rugby events

Kota Kinabalu: The hosting of the Asian Rugby 7s, Borneo 7s and Asia Pacific Women 7s here recently put Malaysia on the world's calender event for rugby.

"It augured well for Malaysia's sports tourism", Sabah Rugby Union President and organiser Velayuthan Tan.

He said the three-in-one rugby bonanza saw some 600 foreign delegates fly in and contribute to Sabah's tourist receipts in hotel accommodation, dining-in at restaurants, shopping for souvenirs at malls and taxi services plying routes leading to the Likas Stadium.

Tan said past editions of the Borneo 7s, had attracted world-renowned teams from Australia, Fiji, the UK, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa.

On the outlook for rugby sports in Malaysia, Tan said his plan for the next three years is to earn the confidence of the iRB and AFRU for Kota Kinabalu to host annual satellite events.

Sabah Rugby Union aims to attract more world-class teams to Malaysia.

In the longer-term plan, it wants to bid for the privilege to host the Rugby World Cup 7s and put Malaysia on the world's rugby calender.

He also said by hosting such events, local fans get the opportunity to watch the game at international level and gain an insight into the intricacies and excitement of rugby.

Continue reading at: Sabah tourism boon via rugby events
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Customised tour packages in Sabah to cost more January

Kota Kinabalu: Tour operators and travel agents will be charging an Agency Consultation Fee from January for customised tour package quotations. It is aimed at enhancing service quality.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) President Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said the charges have been implemented in Peninsular Malaysia.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Sabah tour and travel agents on the issue at Pacific Sutera here, Monday, he said the consultation fees had been widely debated in Semenanjung and was already accepted by the customers.

The Matta fee structure guideline for individual travellers is from RM30 per inquiry or quotation both for domestic and international, which would be absorbed as part of the payment if the client decides to purchase from the agency.

If not, the person making the inquiry would be charged the Agency Consultation Fee.

As for corporate and incentive groups, the fee for domestic and international inquiry is from RM200 per quotation (for first three quotations) and RM500 for the fourth quotation onwards.

According to Mohd Khalid, many clients, especially the corporate and incentive groups would go to many agencies to get quotations on the prices and in the end choose one of them.

Unknown to them is the fact that it takes up a portion of the time of these agencies to get all the information required by groups and that all these years this had been given away for free.

Continue reading at: Customised tour packages in Sabah to cost more January
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Monday, December 06, 2010

Call to gazette Tun Mustapha marine park

KOTA KINABALU: A proposed one million hectare marine park in northern Sabah should be gazetted as soon as possible to pave the way for its protection and conservation.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili said recent studies have shown that the Tun Mustapha Marine Park was ecologically more diverse than Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef or the Carribean.

“It has been seven years since the intention to set up the park was announced.

“Any further delay will lead to the sensitive areas being further degraded,” he said, adding that gazetting the marine park would ensure sustainable development of the marine resources there.

The proposed marine park covers the coastal areas of Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas districts including 50 islands. It has also been identified by experts as a Priority Conservation Area.

When gazetted, the Tun Mustapha Marine Park would become the largest marine conservation area in Malaysia. An estimated 80,000 people live within its vicinity and depend on fishery resources for their livelihood.

The marine park encompasses Marudu Bay and Universiti Putra Malaysia’s (UPM) researchers recently completed a study to find ways to sustainably develop the area.

Continue reading at: Call to gazette Tun Mustapha marine park
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Huge bash to mark KK City Square waterfront opening


KOTA KINABALU: The city waterfront project along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, which features among other public facilities a City Square and a 2.1km boardwalk, will change the facade of the state capital.

Work on the project is in progress and there is no truth in the claims that it has stopped, said Johnson Koh, the executive director of Waterfront Urban Development Sdn Bhd, which is undertaking the project.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun and Mayor Datuk Iliyas Ibrahim, who visited the project site yesterday, expressed satisfaction with the progress of work.

The 2.1 kilometre boardwalk from Anjung Senja to Hyatt Regency Kinabalu Hotel is expected to be the main attraction among the public as it offers a great view of the sea and islands.

The City Square or Dataran Bandaraya will be officially opened on Dec 31, which is New Year’s Eve.

Masidi told reporters after the inspection that work on the project was on schedule and he was happy with the progress as it now only needs some touch-up and beautification of the area.

“Some of the components will have traditional motifs to reflect the rich heritage of Sabah,” he said, adding that the ultimate plan was to connect the boardwalk with the existing one behind Hyatt Regency Kinabalu.

Iliyas disclosed that City Hall is planning a huge bash to celebrate the official opening of the state capital’s very own City Square.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Kinabalu World Heritage Site Gallery a new attraction

Kundasang: The Kinabalu World Heritage Site Gallery has become the latest attraction at Kinabalu Park here, showcasing the park's unique features and rich natural heritage, befitting its status as a World Heritage Site.

It was officially declared open two days ago by State Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Ellron Angin, in conjunction with Kinabalu Park's 10th anniversary as a World Heritage Site.

Sabah Parks research and education coordinator, Rimi Repin, said the gallery comprised three sections, one of which was a three-dimensional display of the park's physical features.

The other sections are a diorama landscape showcasing the park's biodiversity, and information on the park's selection as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

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Miri tourism told to look beyond nature and culture

MIRI: Efforts to promote Miri as a resort city should not just depend on its nature and culture assets, said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan.

He said the tourism industry’s scope should instead be more visionary.

“Tourism promotion should not be limited to nature and culture assets as the industries like sports, education and many others also have great potential and wide markets for tourism promotion,” he said in his address at the 16th Asian Chinese Chess Championship closing ceremony and prize presentation dinner on Friday.

Assistant Minister of Communication Datuk Lee Kim Shin read his text of speech.

Dr Chan said the chess championship was an example of how sports events can have a positive impact on the tourism industry as it attracted teams from Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Japan and Korea.

More international events, he said, should be organised in order to complement the local authority’s efforts to make Miri alive and vibrant with tourism related activities.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mataking Island is full of delights

Mataking Island is indeed full of royal delights.

A 45-minute speedboat- ride from Semporna in eastern Sabah, crossing aquamarine seas and passing by sea gypsy villages on stilts, brings me to the warm embrace of a welcome band on the jetty of the Reef Dive Resort, Mataking Island.

While having my buffet lunch, which included a delightfully fragrant rosemary roast chicken, I am asked by the staff to add one more aroma from a choice of lemongrass, avocado, passion fruit, chempaka flower or frangipani. Not to the food of course; rather which oil I want to infuse my villa with.

My first dive here is led by Luke Cox, resort manager and master scuba instructor, who warns me to look out for Charlie, the 2m-long resident barracuda.

“The house reef is his feeding ground,” smiles Cox. “After eating, he hangs around, and smaller wrasse clean his teeth for him. At night, he sleeps underneath the jetty. He eats, gets cleaned and sleeps, what a life!”

It has been seven years since I first came to Mataking, and the house reef has indeed grown with both coral and fish life. Clouds of damsel and razor fish, plus an assortment of groupers and unicorn fish, greet me soon after entry into the blue waters made brilliant beneath the afternoon sun. But these are just the warm-up for some 400 silvery jacks closely packed into a stunningly shimmery formation.

And under the jetty’s shade, there are more rich pickings — bat and butterfly fish, groupers and yet more jacks. What’s also interesting here is that the numerous concrete Reef Balls (aimed at encouraging coral growth), placed here about four years ago, are showing encouraging signs of coral growth.

Diving is just part of the attraction here. The island lies on the very edge of Sabah’s waters, close to the marine border with the Philippines, and truly has an “away from it all” feeling. On past trips, I had walked around the whole island in under an hour and felt as if I was a ship-wrecked Robinson Crusoe.

This time, after my dive, I take a 10 minute stroll to the island’s tip and am surrounded on three sides by gently lapping waves, the perfect place to just breathe, listen and BE.

I return there a few hours later after dinner and feel as if Moses had parted the Red Sea, as a sinuous sandbar has magically emerged at low tide, creating a natural causeway to the adjacent small island of Mataking Kecil.

The sea is now grey and strangely silent, seemingly asleep in mirror-like tranquillity as it is bathed in the soft glow of a full moon . . .

My dive the next morning is at a site called Frog Fish Farm. Amelia Ng, the resident marine biologist who doubles up as a dive master, leads us to see two lobsters with 1m long antennae, two moray eels and a turtle. She has a knack for spotting impossibly small sea critters camouflaged amidst soft corals, such as several 1cm-wide orang utan crabs, so named for their orange “hair”.

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Community tourism project to raise income of Bidayuh folk

KUCHING: Kampung Timurang, a local Bidayuh village famed for the world acclaimed Rafflesia flower, as well as mysterious limestone caves, are pioneers of a ‘community tourism’ project by the Federal Ministry of Tourism.

Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Dr James Dawos said this project is to maximise the potential of Timurang, located along Borneo Heights Road near here, as a tourist destination.

If proven successful, a similar programme will be replicated to benefit the Orang Asli community in one of the states in the peninsula.

“Community tourism is one of the strategies to raise the income of rural people in line with the aspirations of the New Economic Model for high-income economy,” he told reporters after opening the ‘Entrepreneurship In Tourism Seminar’ at the old DUN complex, yesterday.

He pointed out that the idea to set up the project at Timurang was due to the lack of promotions for tourism in the Borneo Heights area, since tourist guides often bring tourists only up to the Semengok Orang Utan rehabilitation centre.

According to him, Timurang has many untapped tourism products, such as being the nearest place from Kuching to view the world’s biggest flower Rafflesia, while its caves are linked to tales of enigmatic Japanese soldiers, who invaded Borneo and landed on our shores during World War II.

“The present bunch of tourist guides that we have are mostly urbanites. But do they know the plants and trees at the village… and can they even differentiate between a Durian tree and Meranti tree? Only the kampung people know these and the stories related to it.

“We want the people in the village to be involved and make money. At Borneo Heights, the landscape is very hilly and mountainous, and obviously this is not suitable for the people to plant oil palm trees. Thus, the community tourism industry is best suited for them, and we will train them for it,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Community tourism project to raise income of Bidayuh folk
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Friday, December 03, 2010

Kinabalu Park remains World Heritage site due to its diverse biodiversity

Kundasang: The diverse biodiversity at the Kinabalu Park has enabled it to remain among the 911 World Heritage sites from 151 countries in the world, Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Datuk Ellron Angin said.

He said of the 911 heritage sites, only 180, including the Kinabalu Park, were assessed for their natural environment, which was high in biodiversity.

Sixteen of the sites were in critical stage due to uncontrolled human activities, he said when opening the Kinabalu Biodiversity Expo, here, Thursday.

He called for public cooperation to help maintain the ecology at Kinabalu Park so that it could continue to be a world heritage site.

Ellron said the Kinabalu Park was part of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation world heritage status since 2000 for its outstanding universal values and its role as one of the most important biological sites in the world.

"Kinabalu park is not only important as a world heritage site for future generation, but also to increase the economy of the people with the arrival of tourists," he added.

Continue reading at: Kinabalu Park remains World Heritage site due to its diverse biodiversity
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Santa and Elves to climb Mount Kinabalu

KOTA KINABALU: A staff team from the UK charity, Raleigh Borneo, will attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu to raise funds for their Host Country Venturer Programme on December 13 and 14.

In conjunction with the festive season and to encourage donors, they will be scaling the mountain with added charm – one climber will be dressed as Santa Claus and the rest will be dressed as elves.

So far the event has raised over RM10,000, but Raleigh Borneo is still RM50,000 away from its target.

“The current amount raised will help fund just two Malaysians for 2011,” explains Raleigh Borneo’s Recruitment, Support and Media Coordinator, Yolanda Graham.

“We’re hoping to raise enough to fund 10 Malaysians.”

Yolanda will be one of the elves ascending Mount Kinabalu.

With a permanent base in Kota Kinabalu, Raleigh expeditions have been run in Malaysia since 2002. The organisation has been helping rural poor Sabahan communities by building basic necessities such as gravity water feed systems, kindergartens and community halls.

Their projects also include environmental conservation missions within the state, such as helping build the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok and building infrastructure to enable scientific research in various environmentally protected sections in Sabah.

Continue reading at: Santa and Elves to climb Mount Kinabalu
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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Firefly introduces new routes into Sabah and Sarawak

We are pleased to inform you that Firefly has introduced two new routes into Sabah and Sarawak from Main Terminal Building, KLIA on our new fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which seat up to 189 people.

Effective 15 January 2011, the two new routes are:

1. Kuala Lumpur – Kota Kinabalu (BKI) : 3 flights per day after 24 Jan 2011

2. Kuala Lumpur – Kuching (KCH) : 4 flights per day after 24 Jan 2011

The commencement of these routes presents an amazing opportunity for our esteemed passengers to enjoy even greater savings through our new fee and fare structure. Additionally, our growing route network lets our passengers enjoy incredible value further afield.

To celebrate this milestone, Firefly offering:

Fare: RM 59 (all-in fare, one way)
Booking Period: BOOK NOW – Dec 12, 2010
Travelling Period: Jan 15 – March 31, 2011

Thank you

FlyFirefly Sdn. Bhd.

3rd Floor, Administration Building 1, MAS Complex A,
Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport,
47200 Subang, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
http://www.fireflyz.com.my
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Waterfront Boardwalk in Kota Kinabalu ready for New Year

Kota Kinabalu: The City Hall will hold a New Year's eve bash and at the same time celebrate the official opening of the new Dataran Bandaraya (City Square) at the Waterfront Boardwalk in Anjung Senja here.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun said he was informed that works at the Anjung Senja Boardwalk Phase 1a were now 40 per cent complete and City Hall and developer, Waterfront Urban Development Sdn Bhd are expecting it would be completed on time.

Met after inspecting the project site and briefing by Mayor Datuk Iliyas Ibrahim and Waterfront Urban Development Executive Director, Johnson Koh, Masidi said he was satisfied with the progress of the development.

He said the planned New Year's eve celebration at the park on Dec 31 is expected to be officiated by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

Masidi was also informed that among the features at the City Square are a 7m tall and 1m diameter totem pole to be known as "Nantapuan" or meeting place and adorned with Murut motifs.

The Square itself is 40m X 28m that is being built on the inner side of the 500m Boardwalk (from the Wawasan Plaza roundabout in Anjung Senja).

Iliyas said they were proud because the name of the square was proposed by Chief Minister himself.

It was designed to be a public multi-purpose space and accommodate events or ceremonies as well as for parking.

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Travel agents want Sabah exempted from ITC

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah travel agents want the State tourism to request that the Transport Ministry give special consideration to the state in dealing with the Inclusive Tour Charter (ITC).

The ITC was enforced in September this year to bar foreign chartered flights from getting Malaysian passengers.

The move is bound to affect the tourism industry in Sabah, said Multiclients Travels Sdn Bhd, managing director Nicholas Liong.

Liong who had been doing chartered flight services for the past 10 years said the ITC was imposed to protect the national carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia but it did not benefit the tourism industry in Sabah and Sarawak.

“For peninsula, this policy is not a problem to them but for Sabah it will hurt the tourism sector because we don’t have direct flights to certain popular destinations such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin and Taipei.

“Because of this, we decided to introduce chartered flights for all these destinations which do not have direct flights from Kota Kinabalu. This service benefited a lot of people in the hospitality industry and the state economy.

“We urge our State Tourism Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun to look into the matter and discuss it with the Transport Ministry for a solution,” he said.

Nicholas said the imposition of ITC has nothing to do with the closure of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) runway extension project which started in May this year.

The KKIA runway is closed from 1am to 5am and all the chartered airlines avoided these hours, he said adding that chartered flights would arrive at 11pm and 6am and depart within an hour.

Continue reading at: Travel agents want Sabah exempted from ITC
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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sipadan Island - A diver’s paradise

Sipadan is the country’s only oceanic island and the Government has taken drastic steps to protect this national treasure.

THE water around Sipadan Island in Sabah is so clear you can see happy, healthy colonies of fish, turtles, corals and other marine life in it.

But less than 10m from the shore, the turquoise water turns completely dark. The sea suddenly plunges into the dark unknown — a scary prospect for snorkellers.

But all is good. This distinct change in colour marks one of the island’s famous dive sites: The Drop-Off. It’s 600m straight to the bottom and it’s what makes Sipadan unique.

You see, Sipadan is really an underwater mountain. It is an oceanic island, which means it is not connected to any continental shelf but rises straight from the deep ocean floor.

Most of the diving done in Sipadan is wall diving where the coral reefs are vertical, not below the diver as is the case in other places.

This is a great place for divers to hone their buoyancy skills — you do not want to go below the 30-35m safety limit of recreational diving — while enjoying the scenery at the same time.

But you can’t stay on the island as it has no resorts. This has been so since 2004. Many believe that this was done for security reasons. In 2000, 21 people were taken hostage by armed gunmen on the island (they were later released unharmed).

According to Clement Lee, managing director of Borneo Divers Resort, tourists are not allowed to stay on the island because of environmental reasons. The only evidence of civilisation there is an army camp.

Borneo Divers began operation on Sipadan Island in 1983. Recreational scuba diving was virtually unheard of in Malaysia then, especially in Sabah.

“We were the pioneers in diving tourism here. It started earlier in the peninsula, at least 30-35 years ahead of us although it was very sporadic,” says Lee, who comes from Kota Kinabalu.

In 1988, maritime legend Jacques Cousteau visited Sipadan to shoot a documentary, Ghost Of The Sea Turtle.

Over a period of 20 years, however, Lee witnessed the degradation of the marine life and the environment. There were too many divers and operators, he says.

The small island could not withstand the traffic it was getting.

In the past, the island was at the centre of a territorial dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia. The matter was brought for adjudication before the International Court Of Justice and, at the end of 2002, the Court awarded the island (along with the island of Ligitan) to Malaysia, on the basis of the “effective occupation” displayed by the latter’s predecessor (Malaysia’s former colonial power, the United Kingdom) and the absence of any other superior title.

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