Tourism in Sabah which had taken a hard hit from the Lahad Datu conflict is beginning to recover, according to industry players who say tourists are coming back.
In Sandakan, Sabah Hotel sales and marketing director Anthony Kong said cancellations were fewer compared to early March, and groups who had postponed trips were reinstating their bookings. “In order to portray the actual situation here, we launched a series of YouTube videos where our guests provide testimonies, and we uploaded them for circulation,” he said. Kong added that there had been several visitors who chose Sabah despite travel advisories warning them against it.
Although Sandakan is over 230km away from Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu, a number of tourists had postponed or cancelled their holiday plans during the height of the conflict. Meanwhile, tour operators were busy promoting the state’s various places of attraction, which include the Kinabalu National Park, Layang-Layang island, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park and diving spots like Sipadan and Mabul islands.
Popular Express Travel Operations Manager Christopher Chung said there had been a noticeable drop in tourist numbers but they had since increased and were now close to the monthly average number of Sabah tours they arranged. “When the conflict was at its peak, a group of international school students had diverted their destination from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching as their parents objected to the tour,” he said.
The Sabah Tourism Board, in its latest travel advisory, confirmed all tourism activities in the state were operating as usual, including those on the east coast. Foreign travel advisories however, are still warning travelers to avoid the whole eastern Sabah area as they fear the conflict may not be over yet.