KOTA KINABALU: The hotel industry has been told to further improve their services to welcome more tourists to Sabah.
Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Pang Yuk Ming said the improvement is needed as next year there will be more direct flights to Sabah.
"Starting next month, Batik Air will launch its flight from Jakarta to Kota Kinabalu while Malindo Airlines will start the Chengdu and Changsha to Kota Kinabalu sector.
"The Koreans are also coming in a big way from Jeju and Cebu Airlines from the Philippines is also planning to do so" Pang disclosed during the Ctrip annual appreciation gathering for the hotel industry at an entertainment centre here recently.
"So we need to improve ourselves to be comparable with established destinations such as Bangkok and Bali which have fantastic hospitality services.
"Although our level of services is quite good at the moment, it is still not the best even though our front-liners are better than anybody else" Pang said.
Pang called on the industry to move up their services ante ahead of the forecasted increase of direct flights.
"We are now enjoying a 10 percent increase in our tourists' arrivals compared to the same period of last year even though Malaysia experienced a drop of one percent" Pang revealed.
He said Sabah offers the complete ecotourism package when compared to Bali because the state is blessed with rich fauna and flora as well as beautiful beaches in Kudat and Kuala Penyu.
"We have the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and we also have the friendliest people from 35 ethnic groups and 217 sub-ethnic groups and this was the reason the Chinese tourists like to come" Pang said, adding that the friendly Sabahans are the greatest asset.
"If you look at Thailand, they have beautiful beaches and people but they do not have the fauna and flora, same goes to the Philippines and Bali.
"Tourism is here to stay. We have the products which are God-given paradise to everybody. So there is only one thing we need to improveâ€¦our services" Pang said.
He also encouraged hoteliers who are planning to expand their business to consider investing in building resorts on the beachfront and forego budget hotel as the state capital has sufficient number.
"We can learn from Bali, they have a wide range of hotels from small to medium and high-end. All their hotels are designed with their own characteristics, something that our hotels are lacking.
"You don't have to be big, you just need to be unique as 30 to 50 rooms are good than having 200 rooms" Pang said.
He also praised the hoteliers here for doing well in their business so far and encouraged them to consider Kuala Penyu if they are planning to venture outskirt as the district have many products in store and also blessed with nice beaches.
Pang also called on the hotel operators to refrain from undercutting as the room rates in Sabah is already the cheapest in this region.
"If you sell cheap, you will compensate your quality, so don't sell too low, but increase your quality and always maintain the 3C which is to keep your hotel clean, comfortable and convenient for the customers" Pang advised.
He also hoped the relationship between Ctrip and the local hotel operators will continue to grow as more Chinese are coming to Sabah as FIT (foreign independent tour) and booked their travelling via online.
(Ctrip is a leading travel platform, founded in Shanghai in 1999 and has over 250 million users from China) Ctrip regional operation manager Pei Yue Chao estimated more tourists will be expected from China from provinces like Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Tianjin, Shandong and Fujian.
"With the advancement of technology, the individual traveller is getting more popular where travel information is easily obtained" Pei said.
He also highlighted there is an increase of Koreans planning their trips via Ctrip platform.
Also present were Stephane Thong and Fine Liu Fan, both from Ctrip; representatives from Sabah Tourism Board, Sarawak Tourism Board and the hoteliers. Some 130 people attended the gathering.