Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Environment Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said the state’s tourism industry was overly dependent on Chinese visitors before the pandemic and that it must now diversify its customer base.
“Sabah is recognised for its nature-based tourism, but we also offer upscale products and one-of-a-kind travel experiences that would be of appeal to visitors from India. They are big spenders, so we want to draw them in.
“In fact, over 6,000 Indian visitors came to Sabah pre-pandemic in 2019, showing a clear interest in visiting the region. While the number is modest, it is still quite promising.
“Be assured that the Sabah Tourism Board is actively pursuing the Indian market, and we hope to see a steady increase in arrival in the coming year.
“I am sure direct linkages between India and Sabah will be established in the future once there is a rise in the number of Indian visitors,” he said.
On Wednesday, Joniston, who also chairs the Sabah Tourism Board, hosted a dinner for the India Market Tour Agents of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA).
AsianWorld Holidays Sdn Bhd director George Kandiah led the delegation on their familiarisation trip to Sabah.
Also in attendance at the dinner were MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang and representatives from AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), and Batik Air.
On current flight frequency, Joniston said there are 163 weekly connecting flights between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu available via MAS, Air Asia, and Batik Air
He also mentioned that 3,247 tourists from India had arrived in the state between January and October this year.
On Tuesday, India’s High Commissioner to Malaysia B. Nagabhushana Reddy paid a courtesy call on Joniston during which they exchanged views on potential cooperation and tourism development, among others.
In the meeting, Reddy mentioned the need to work with popular destinations because Indians travel widely and in great numbers throughout the world.
He stated that about 700,000 Indian tourists visited Malaysia in 2019, and the fact that a portion of them flew to Sabah demonstrates that Indian tourists are already making plans to experience the country’s unique destinations.