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'Sabah rich in biodiversity, but lacks international flights to reach tourism potential'
Published on: Saturday, October 21, 2023
By: Malay Mail
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'Sabah rich in biodiversity, but lacks international flights to reach tourism potential'
Tourists treated to a scenic view of Mount Kinabalu. (Bernama file pic)
Kota Kinabalu: Sabah still needs direct flights to attract visitors to its harder-to-reach natural attractions, Sandakan MP Vivian Wong said today.

Wong said Sabah has world-class flora and fauna which is coveted by naturalists around the world, but the lack of direct flights into the east coast districts was still a hindrance to its tourism potential.

“We already have the infrastructure ready, but there are no international flights. We have a lot of potential here but the nearest flight is Kuala Lumpur, three hours away,” she told reporters after launching the 13th Borneo Bird Festival here.

Wong said that Sandakan, a gateway to attractions such as Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Kinabatangan River, is a gold mine for tourism with endemic biodiversity but visitors have to either fly to Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu first.

“We have been talking to the Ministry of Transport who have been supportive of our efforts. They are looking at airlines to take up the route.

“At the moment we are looking at Singapore and Hong Kong among others but this is still in discussion,” she said.

The festival today attracts thousands of nature enthusiasts, with one of the organisers, Borneo Bird Club chairman Robert Ong saying while there are visitors from the Philippines and Singapore this year, international participation has been lower compared to previous years.

“We can definitely accommodate more people. We have upgraded infrastructure at the Rainforest Discovery Centre which allows for better and more viewing platforms.

“We also have renowned international speakers in the industry with us,” he said.

Sabah Tourism Board chief executive officer Noredah Othman said that the international event is highly supported because of how it is run by the local birdwatching community.

“We want to continue supporting such local community efforts, especially those that put focus on Sabah’s attractions. We are very thankful for these niche markets and we think the local community should capitalise on it,” she said.

Noredah said birdwatching is a lucrative and popular activity for naturalists and specialist local guides are in high demand.

“This is something we should continue to encourage and support among the local community,” she said.

Birdwatching is a popular activity among nature enthusiasts in Sabah given the 660 bird species recorded for Borneo, including 68 known endemics. It is understood that Sepilok alone is home to 19 Bornean endemics.

Australians Brett Taylor — who is on his third trip to Sabah — and his partner Kat Spruth are both wildlife-focused travellers. They said they found Sabah to have a wide variety of wildlife that was also abundant.

“We found that there is good value and a lot of variety in the different regions around Sabah. Everything is fairly accessible and the guides are very well-trained,” said the couple from Brisbane, Australia.

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