Sabah hopes major Middle Eastern airlines will include the state in their holiday programmes and eventually, mount direct flights to the state famed for its Mount Kinabalu and natural beauty.
Sabah Tourism Board (STB) senior research manager Allen Chia said, Sabah was already included in Etihad Holidays' programme, following talks between Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun and senior officials from Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates in February.
Etihad Holidays is a division of Etihad Airways. It offers a comprehensive range of holiday packages to the airline's passenger destinations, including its home base, Abu Dhabi.
"The challenge for us is to have direct access (from the Middle East region) to Sabah," he told Bernama on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2009 here.
The four-day event ends Friday.
Chia said Sabah's key tourism markets such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, all had direct access to the East Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Other markets include United Kingdom and Australia.
Sabah has been identified by Tourism Malaysia as one of several new destinations to be promoted as part of the agency's marketing strategies for 2008-2010.
This is STB's maiden appearance at the ATM, billed as the premier tourism fair, not only for the Middle East but also the global tourism industry.
Chia said he would take the opportunity to size up the Middle East market and take it from there.
"We would like to thank Tourism Malaysia for inviting us to take part in this travel show, as well as several tour operators in Kuala Lumpur for marketing Sabah," he added.
Last year, the state received 2.3 million visitors, including 701,000 foreigners.
"Of course, our biggest contributor is the domestic market. That's why Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia flights to Sabah are always full," disclosed Chia. "At this moment of global economic crisis (which is affecting travel), our focus is on domestic and regional markets. At the same time, we are looking at new emerging markets in the Middle East and Asia Pacific," he added.
According to him, Sabah's attraction lay in its nature, affording the younger generation adventure and other eco-tourism products.
"We've received numerous enquries about diving in Sipadan and activities associated with our rainforests and so on," he said, adding that Sipadan was an official nominee for the 'New Seven Wonders of Nature' that would be declared in 2011.
Source : Bernama
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