Malaysia plans to develop Sabah for tourism, but is it ready?


Boasting cultural, historical and natural heritage, Sabah is becoming a must-see destination, but does it’s tourism infrastructure reflect that? Source: Shutterstock

THE state of Sabah rests on the northern part of Borneo island, East Malaysia. 

The sapphire waters, abundant wildlife, white beaches and lush rainforest make it a paradise-like destination.

In the first quarter of 2018, Sabah received 1,256,448 tourists, with the majority coming from China and South Korea.

And the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) has said it wants to continue developing Sabah’s tourism potential by working closely with the state government “without compromising local cultures, traditions, habitats, and wildlife.”

Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said in a statement, “We are glad to note that the new state government has assured us of its commitment towards the preservation and conservation of Sabah’s wildlife and natural resources which is the main drawcard to attract tourists to Sabah.”

The assurance means Matta can focus on developing rural tourism, commercializing eco-tourism products, adding tourism activities and spreading tourism to Tawau, Sandakan, and Kudat.

While the tourism push is already active in the region, Matta is focusing on enticing visitors from the UK and European Union countries this year.

But before the desired increase of foreign travelers arrives on the island, Matta and the state government are keen to conduct an in-depth study on capacities to house tourists.

“(Capacity) differs greatly between city, diving resorts and nature-based attractions,” said Tan.

“This is to prevent overcrowding and also to identify business opportunities for entrepreneurs to build and offer facilities to tourists, creating jobs and boosting the economy.”

With Matta and the state government focusing on protecting what already exists in Sabah and promoting the region to reach its full tourism potential, Sabah is shaping up to be a hot new destination.

Could it be next on your travel itinerary?

Well, if you’re all about unique experiences and want to combine culture, history, and adventure on a wilderness break, then Sabah is perfect for you.

You can take a hike up Mount Trusmadi, an alternative to Mount Kinabalu, and enjoy the sunrise when you reach the top. Also, the climb is relatively leech-free so that’s one less worry.

What would a mountain be without a waterfall? Some of the most impressive ones can be discovered in the Maliau Basin, Southeast Asia’s ‘Lost World’.

The stunning seven-tiered Maliau Falls is four days from civilization and as close to nature as you’ll ever get.

Sabah also boasts hundreds of kilometers of pristine beaches and clear waters, perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling, or scuba diving.

A must-see beach is Pantai Dalit, Tuaran. Surrounded by 400 acres of tropical flora, the calm blue waters provide the perfect conditions to dive, swim, bathe or just admire the surroundings.

Sabah is fortunate enough to have three coastlines that all fall into three separate seas. The South China Sea takes the west coast, the Sulu Sea to the north and the Celebes Sea on the east.

Each has an array of marine life and diving challenges, depending on your skill level.

One of the most famed islands to dive from is Sipidan off the lower east coast of Sabah.

Above the water, Sabah’s diverse variety of wildlife will delight any nature aficionados.

Take a cruise along the Kinabatangan River to spot orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys and birds of paradise.

The Tabin Wildlife Reserve is your best bet to spot the endangered Sunda clouded leopard and Selingan Island is great for those interested in turtle conservation.

Sabah is directly reachable from West Malaysia, China, South Korea, Japan, Taipei, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia.

Those traveling from further afield can catch a connecting flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.