|Tourists rediscover and experience nature and wildlife at their best in Sabah.|
WITH its timber revenue declining as it focuses on reversing the trend of deforestation, Sabah is turning to the tourism sector to displace forestry as one of the main contributors to the economy.
The state recognises that protecting the forest is crucial and runs parallel with efforts to promote tourism, considering that discerning tourists will prefer places where environmental conservation is given priority.
It was reported that the state government expected annual revenue from timber production to be less than RM100 million a year over the next 20 years with timber production from natural forests expected to decline during that period.
Between 1970 and 2000, the state depended heavily on timber revenue to support development, which resulted in the reduction of the productive capacity of forests.
Such dependence, coupled with past logging practices that were not environmentally-friendly and compounded by forest fires, resulted in the degradation of Sabah's forests and prompted the state government to enforce strict management of the forests using proper methods, including practices certified by international organisations.
All these efforts have helped placed Sabah in the global map with international non-governmental organisations acknowledging the state's seriousness in protecting its forests and conserve the environment.
This, in turn, has generated interests among foreign visitors, as evident from the increasing number of tourist arrivals.
This year, Sabah has set a target of 2.93 million visitors with an estimated receipt of RM5.2 billion.
The total arrival of visitors to Sabah for the first half of this year was 1,372,525, an increase of 1.7 per cent compared with the same period last year.
With this growth, Sabah should meet its target of tourist arrivals for this year. For next year, Sabah is targeting the arrival of 3.1 million visitors with an estimated receipt of RM5.5 billion.
To achieve this, the government is stepping up efforts to encourage airline companies to operate more international flights to Sabah, be they direct, scheduled chartered or chartered flights.
The state government's commitment is paying off with four new direct flights to Sabah from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Osaka and Perth commencing operations this month.
With the introduction of the new flights, Sabah now boasts of being directly connected with 13 international cities, including Shenzen, Manila, Jakarta, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Bandar Seri Begawan and Tarakan.
These cities are serviced by 11 airlines, among them Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Royal Brunei Airlines, Dragon Air, Silk Air, Cebu Pacific, Aseana, Korean Air, Tiger Air and MASwings. The flights from the 13 cities offer more than 18,000 seats weekly.
The increasing number of flights operating to and from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport have made and positioned the airport as the busiest after the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
It is heartening that the success boils down to the fact that the tourism industry in Sabah follows the direction of "Responsible Conservation Tourism", a concept that allows tourists to re-discover and experience nature and wildlife.
Known as "the land below the wind", Sabah has unique nature-tourism qualities as the state is rich in biodiversity, contributing to Malaysia being one of the 12 mega-biodiversity hot spots in the world.
As a rapidly developing state, Sabah is aware and concerned about environmental protection and ensures that these aspects are taken into consideration and integrated in development planning and exploitation of natural resources in line with sustainable development principles.
Kudos to the state government led by chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman for going all out to protect Sabah's forests and natural environment because it is not only an asset to the tourism industry, it also supports agriculture and manufacturing sectors.