By : OXFORD BUSINESS GROUP
SABAH is the only place in the world where time can wait for you but you can still get things done. In addition, we must not forget that our beaches are l some of the best in the world. Lets explore the interview by Oxford Business Group with Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment, Datuk Masidi Manjun.
OBG : WHAT advantages does Sabah have over other tourist destinations in South-East Asia?
MASIDI: Many of the more internationally famous destinations around the region are starting to lose some of their allure. There are areas in both Indonesia and Thailand that have grown too fast and are now slightly jaded, as they become more and more overcrowded.
Some of these destinations have become almost artificial and that spark of magic is not there anymore. This is something that we are determined to avoid in Sabah. Therefore, while income from tourism is very important, at the same time l think it should be done in such a way that it is sustainable. Sabah must learn from the mistakes made by others over the past decade or so. Sabah has done extremely well in terms of tourism development but this is partly because we started from zero, and we have had the advantage of learning from others.
Our other major advantage is our location, being five hours or less from all the major cities in the region. Whether it is Perth in Australia or Hong Kong to the north, Sabah is at the very heart of the region.
Lastly, Sabah is completely unique in that it is a destination where business and pleasure can mix. lt is a great cocktail. We have a fantastic quality of life here and it is a place where you can come and just forget about the rest of the world.
Sabah is the only place in the world where time can wait for you but you can still get things done. In I addition, we must not forget that our beaches are l some of the best in the world.
OBG : What is the action plan at the ministry to encouraged additional growth and expansion in new tourism segments over the next five years?
MASIDI: We will look to improve our existing offering. Of course ecotourism is a major market for us but within the market there are many distinct segments. One of the latest areas that we consider to have potential is bird watching.
There are mately 600 different types of bird in Borneo of them can be found in Sabah and 14 of the only be found in Kinabalu Park. These are the most beautiful birds in the tropics.
l went to the British Birdwatching Fair where l saw just how popular and serious bird watching industry is. At the event there we representatives and booths from at least 40 countries.
Britain alone has some 800,000 active members the British Birdwatching Society and in the watching is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Since then we have organised the Boreo Festival, held in the Rainforest Discovery in Sepilok Sandakan, which was an instant has a prime example of how we are looking tourism to Sabah, but in a way that actually ages conservation and gives the rural community and expanded job opportunities.
ln addition, we are also looking at ecotourism in all our island resorts. We want to make sure the facilities are environmentally friendly, and have the added benefit to the local economy making the resorts premium destinations.
People from all over the world are extreme interested in conservation, so they are willing premium to stay in a resort where they are helping conservation efforts.
Finally, we are also working hard along Department of Forestry to have Danum and Maliau Basin recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Away from ecotourism and related issue the Chief Minister has just announced new international convention centre, which a 5000-delegate capacity.
This will certain help to us in growing the meetings, incentive conferences and exhibitions industry here A favourite location for events with organise all over the world. However, additional necessary in order to be able to cope with.
OBG: What needs to be done to increase the number of direct flights coming into Sabah?
MASIDI: At present, at many times of the year we are running at over capacity, which is a great problem to have but at the same time we are not going to look to rush into any decisions.
The expectations need to be realistic. Firstly, 93% of all of Sabah’s visitors come via air, making connectivity a hugely important part of our strategy. Getting a new destination is not that difficult, the actual challenge is filling these planes so that the service can survive.
So, again, we do not want to rush too fast and stumble. There must be steady sustainable growth. ln 2009 we saw growth in the sector of 2.23% and in 2010 we forecast 2.3% growth, but actually saw double digit growth. Taking a global perspective, we expect the growth to be around 2.5% for 2011. By revenue the tourism industry in Sabah reached RM3.8bn ($1.19bn) in 2009 and for 2010 it will increase to nearly RM4bn ($1.25bn), which is incremental, sustainable growth for the industry.
OBG : What strategies are in place to ensure that there will be enough skilled workers available to meet the growth demands of the industry?
MASIDI: We do suffer from the continuous loss of staff in the hospitality industry to places such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as Sabahans are sought after because of their natural friendly character. We continuously bring new people into the industry but unfortunately it is a recurring problem.
ln the hospitality industry staff move to new postings on a frequent basis. It is such an international job that it is usually the only way to advance your career and move up the corporate ladder.
However, in Sabah one of the reasons that staff move to other cities is that they are able to earn significantly more than they can here. On the other side of the coin, employers hold the power in Sabah because of the limited opportunities here.
Therefore, it is practically an employer’s market. Of course, this does not take away from the fact that we must continue to produce skilled workers for the tourism industry. This is why the government has recently doubled the allocation of the Ministry of Resource Development specifically for the purpose of training staff in the tourism industry and improving the quality of those employees.
There are a number of different government agencies that currently provide training for the tourism sector.
OBG : In which areas of the industry do opportunities for private sector investment exist and what incentives can investors expect?
MASIDI : There are currently opportunities in the development of five-star resorts, as we have seen with the examples of the two resorts developed by YTL Corporation. The first one is the Pulau Gaya resort, which will be completed in 2011. This resort is located on Pulau Gaya, the largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and the closest to Kota Kinabalu. The second one is Pulau Tiga Resort, which will also be completed in 2011.
The Waterfront Urban Development is another good example of private investment in the tourism industry. The Waterfront is an integrated mixed seafront development, which is situated on the waterfront of Kota Kinabalu city centre.
ln addition, we are taking the liberty of designating the entire coastline from Tuaran, Kota Belud and eventually Kudat as a tourism belt, which will look to replicate the Gold Coast in Australia in many respects, and even improve on it.
We would also like to mix in elements of what they have done in Bali, where a belt has been developed by a single developer but within that area there is competition between hotel chains. We will strive to make sure that comfort is the key ingredient in these hotels, and that they are developed for the whole family, so that there is something for everyone.
(NOTE : Oxford Business Group is a global publishing and consultancy company producing annual investment and economic reports on more than 30 countries. Every business intelligence report is based on in-country research conducted over an average of six months by experienced analysts. To identify investment opportunities, we draw on more than 1,000 first-hand sources. You need only one – Oxford Business Group.)