Sabah minister says local tourism industry will take four years to recover from Covid-19

People take a picture of the setting sun on the Tanjung Aru beach in Kota Kinabalu September 30, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
People take a picture of the setting sun on the Tanjung Aru beach in Kota Kinabalu September 30, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KOTA KINABALU, Dec 11 — Sabah’s once-thriving tourism industry will need a huge amount of funds and planning in the next few years in order to recover from the economic impact of Covid-19.

Sabah Covid-19 spokesperson Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the pandemic had triggered not just a health crisis but also an economic crisis. 

He said to fully recover from this, it would take time and a holistic approach, as well as a huge injection of funds.

“Based on the Economic Action Council, we are looking at least four years to rehabilitate the nation’s tourism industry.

“Many are placing their hopes on Covid-19 vaccine to help bring things back to normal once it’s available in the first quarter of next year, but any recovery will not happen overnight. Just like opening our borders does not mean that visitors will suddenly come streaming in,” the Sabah Local Government and Housing Minister said.

Masidi said the ministry’s current allocation of RM25 million to the Sabah Tourism Board to promote the state as a travel destination may not go far if it took into account recurring and overhead costs as well.

“To really rehabilitate the industry additional allocation is needed to create publicity and attract investors and flights to fly to Sabah. It is not easy to estimate how much is needed overall, but we will know better once the industry starts up again, and the economic chain becomes more evident,” he said.

The state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry are in the process of preparing an estimation on the exact amount needed through its tourism recovery committee.

Masidi said that while the vaccine is much anticipated and the state government will do its utmost to speed up the recovery process, there are many factors at play that are beyond control.

“While it won’t be easy to fully recover, it is not impossible. It can be done but will take a while. Let’s not hope or expect something to happen overnight,” he said.

Sabah last year hit its peak in tourism arrivals, registering its highest-ever tourism receipt of RM8.342 billion from a record-high 3.879 million arrivals, of which just over a third was from international arrivals. The figure is a 5.3 per cent increase in tourists from the previous year.

However, tourism this year ground to a near halt with a 68.8 per cent decrease following the pandemic, and the lockdown which began in March. Domestic tourism picked up mid-year but was again affected with the third wave of Covid-19, which saw Sabah become the worst-hit state in terms of cases.