Thirty-two travel agents from India are now in Sabah to explore the state’s potential as a new tourist destination catering to the Indian market.
The group is among 543 members of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) who recently attended the TAFI conference in Kuching, Sarawak. Arriving on Friday, the group led by Western India Chapter of TAFI chairman Jitul Mehta have chosen to make their post-conference excursion to Sabah in order to become more familiar with the region and its product offerings.
Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment cum Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said the group’s visit supports the Board’s continued goal of introducing Sabah to the Indian market as a new and hidden gem of Malaysia.
He stated there had been an upward tendency of Indian arrivals to Sabah prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, with 5,606 Indian visitors registered in 2018, and 6,548 recorded the following year.
“We want this situation to return and to re-capture our potential Indian guests. In addition, we hope to welcome Indian filmmakers too as our destination is already well sought after for documentaries,” he added.
On aviation accessibility, Joniston said Indian tourists can travel to Sabah via Singapore with 14 flights weekly to Kota Kinabalu, and via Kuala Lumpur, with 230 weekly connecting flights to Kota Kinabalu.
“We at the Sabah Tourism Board want to work closely with tour agents and airlines to expand indirect passenger traffic to Sabah, and who knows, with enough Indian arrivals, we might be able to schedule direct flights from India one day,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mehta was hopeful that the group’s four-day tour to Sabah would be informative and enlightening for its members who had previously only heard or read about the state.
“We are optimistic that we could bring more Indian tourists to Sabah and perhaps, by working together, we might make direct flights a reality,” he said.