KOTA KINABALU, 8 July 2024: AirAsia and Sabah Tourism Board (STB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last week to establish a strategic partnership to boost the tourism industry for the next five years.

This partnership is set to bolster the Land Below the Wind’s status as a top-tier tourist hotspot by enhancing air connectivity between Sabah and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), as well as the larger ASEAN region, North Asia, and Oceania for the period of 2024-2028.

The MoU was signed by Datuk Captain Chester Voo Chee Soon, Deputy Group CEO (Airline Operations) of AirAsia Aviation Group, and Julinus Jeffery Jimit, CEO of Sabah Tourism Board, witnessed by Datuk Christina Liew, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah. The MoU signing ceremony was also attended by Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah and Chairman of STB; Tuan Murad Abdul Rashid, Principal Senior Assistant Secretary representing the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah and Ahmad Al Farouk Ahmad Kamal, Deputy Group CEO (Corporate) of AirAsia Aviation Group.

AirAsia Group aims to enhance overall connectivity in Sabah by potentially launching 14 new exciting domestic and international routes, including Kota Kinabalu-Bandar Sri Begawan, Kota Kinabalu-Perth, Tawau-Guangzhou, Sandakan-Hong Kong, and more. These will be subject to market review and evaluation over the course of the coming months to assess demand for each route, regulatory approvals and other favourable market factors and conditions.

The partnership also includes greater collaboration between the airline and the tourism body to potentially develop the Kota Kinabalu International Airport as a regional aviation hub in the future.

Minister of Tourism Culture and Environment Sabah, Datuk Christina Liew said: “We are pleased to establish this five-year strategic partnership with AirAsia, where we will support bridging the conversation between the airline and relevant stakeholders. Over the past few months, Sabah has become one of the top affordable travel destinations, and AirAsia has played a crucial role in facilitating this milestone. In the first half of the year, we successfully welcomed 1.24 million tourists to Sabah to date, and with AirAsia’s vast reach, we are confident that we can attract more visitors and showcase the unique experiences Sabah has to offer to travellers beyond this region.

“As tourism flourishes, it creates a ripple effect that benefits the local economy in multiple ways. Tourism directly creates jobs in various sectors, such as hospitality, transportation, and retail. As of 2022, tourism alone has contributed 22.8% of employment in the state, including positions in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and local attractions. The influx of tourists generates additional income for local businesses, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region. Furthermore, the growth in tourism prompts the development of better infrastructure, including roads, airports, and public amenities, benefiting both tourists and residents in the future.”

Sabah Tourism Board CEO Julinus Jeffery Jimit noted that with 90% of arrivals into Sabah being by air, this strategic partnership will further amplify travel opportunities. He thanks AirAsia for being a supportive camaraderie. 

AirAsia Aviation Group, Deputy Group CEO (Airline Operations) Datuk Captain Chester Voo said: “This partnership marks a significant step for us to expand our connectivity from our second biggest hub in Malaysia, providing more opportunities for our guests in the state to explore the world and for the world to get to know and fall in love with Sabah. Since 2002, we have flown close to almost 80 million guests to and from Sabah, both domestically and internationally. We look forward to seeing these numbers grow exponentially in the next five years with this partnership.

“In 2023 alone, AirAsia flights contributed to a 60% market share for tourism in Sabah, highlighting the immense potential of this region as a major travel destination. Increased connectivity brings more international visitors to Sabah, fostering cultural exchange and mutual understanding and leading to new opportunities in various sectors. With the continuous support of our guests and partners, we are confident that AirAsia will play a pivotal role in transforming Sabah into a vibrant tourism hub, driving economic growth and improving the livelihoods of its people.”

AirAsia Group flies to 23 destinations to/from Sabah with a total of 294 flights weekly. These destinations include from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Hong Kong, Seoul and more; from Tawau to Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru and from Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur, excluding the destinations within the Sabah state.

For more information on Sabah’s attractions, head to the website www.sabahtourism.com.

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