KOTA KINABALU: The State Government encourages the private sector to venture into tourism development, particularly in building more resorts and hotels.
Minister of Special Tasks Datuk Seri Panglima Teo Chee Kang said the tourism industry was thriving in Sabah and there was great potential for the development of resorts and hotels.
He said that during an interview by CityplusFM in view of the tabling of federal budget in Parliament today (Oct 27).
Teo said the Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Haji Aman had identified agriculture, tourism and manufacturing as the three thrust sectors in Sabah.
"Our agriculture sector is mainly oil palm plantation, which is the largest in Malaysia.â€
He said there was a huge potential in developing the palm oil downstream industry.
"We have the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) in Lahad Datu. There is a need to boost the biochemical industry in palm oil downstream development which I believe can bring huge economic benefits to the State" he said.
On the tourism aspect, Teo said the government's role was to facilitate the provision of tourism infrastructure and facilities, while the private sector was the main driver of this smokeless industry.
He said Sabah has done well in the tourism sector.
"The State recorded increasing tourist arrivals in recent years, especially travellers from China. Statistics show that close to 400,000 Chinese tourists have visited Sabah in the first eight months this year and the figure is expected to exceed 500,000 for 2017.â€
However, he said the main problem facing the tourism industry was the shortage of hotel rooms.
"I was informed that all the four to five-star hotels in greater Kota Kinabalu are fully booked in the next three months.
"Hence, the State Government encourages the private sector to venture into tourism development, particularly in building more resorts and hotels.â€
On whether the government encourages the AirBnB services given the shortage of hotel rooms, Teo said there was indeed many AirBnB operators in the State.
"AirBnB is able to address the shortage of hotel rooms but there has to be a set of regulations to manage the operators.â€
When asked about the latest statistics which showed that the agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors were facing a downturn last year, Teo said there was a complex reason behind the slowdown, including the world economic structure.
"The prices of raw materials fluctuate all year round.
"We do see a slowdown in the property development sector and I think the main reason for that is the difficulty of purchasers in securing bank loans.â€
As to whether the tourism in the east coast of Sabah has recovered from past abduction incidents, he said new Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, had been on a mission to eradicate militants in southern Philippines.
"The incident at Marawi has come to an end whereby the militant leaders have been either arrested or killed. With that, the security in Sabah has now reached a satisfactory level" he said.
Teo also hoped that the allocation for the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone) would be increased in the coming budget as national and border securities were important for economic development.
To another question, Teo said Tun Mustapha Marine Park, the largest marine park in Malaysia, was located in his constituency in Kudat.
He said Sabah had earned a good reputation globally for its conservation efforts.
"At present, 58 per cent of Sabah is covered with forests.
"First class protected forests in Sabah currently stand at 25 per cent and the goal is to expand the coverage to 30 per cent in the next few years.
"This is higher than the standard in any other countries as the global average is only 10 per cent.â€
He said the State Government also carried out strict enforcement in wildlife protection, such as turtles and sharks.
"I believe our efforts in protecting wildlife will attract more tourists, especially nature lovers, to Sabah.â€