KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang is urging local tourism players to make full use of the allocations provided for in Budget 2018 to raise Sabah's economy in general, and tourism in particular, to greater heights.
Tan said Matta is grateful to Prime Minister Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Haji Abdul Razak for making tourism an engine of growth to generate wealth for the country.
To revitalise the tourism industry, he said RM2 billion is allocated to the SME Tourism Fund to provide soft loans to tour operators with an interest subsidy of two percent; RM1 billion for the Tourism Infrastructure Development Fund as soft loans; and RM500 million to develop and promote tourism through upgrading infrastructure facilities as well as promoting homestay and ecotourism programs.
"Matta hopes to work closely with the financial institutions entrusted with managing the funds and ensure that loans reach qualified applicants as intended, and conditions are not overly stringent to the extent of deterring applications, which would ultimately result in opportunity lost for our nation. As such, the qualifying criteria and mechanism ought to be simplified and transparent.
"This will allow local entrepreneurs to upgrade or build ecotourism facilities throughout the state to cater to the influx of tourists, as Sabah has many natural attractions to offer. This is a good challenge for the tourism industry to be private sector driven. With adequate funding, industry players can focus on upgrading existing facilities, fleet modernization, infrastructure development in resorts, lodges, tour products and digital marketing" said Tan in a statement.
With digital communication facilities and road connections in place, coupled with electricity and water supplies, he said any spot in Sabah could easily be turned into a tourist attraction by a uploading a video showing a forested mountain or sandy beach with affordable accommodation, great food and friendly locals eager to give visitors an unforgettable experience. As such the future looks bright, particularly for those tapping into the growth of rural and ecotourism.
As safety and security are paramount, he said allocating RM250 million to ESSCom is essential for the safety and security of tourism and economic activities in the East Coast of Sabah, which is currently experiencing an influx of Chinese tourists, especially to Semporna.
"Matta had also asked for tax exemptions currently given to inbound and domestic tour operators be continued and conditions eased to help new and small players, as many are Bumiputera companies. We are grateful that our proposal has been granted with tax exemptions granted to a year of assessment 2020.
"In the coming months, we will continue to voice out our concerns for the betterment of our tourism industry. For the next Budget, we will submit new proposals to meet fresh challenges ahead. Tourism is a dynamic and sunrise industry, offering the highest return on investment within the shortest time for both the government and industry players" added Tan.