Filipino holidaymakers, businessmen and the public at large wishing to visit Sabah via the weekly Zamboanga-Sandakan ferry service no longer have to pay the mandatory government travel tax of Php 1,620.
The travel tax exemption imposed by the Duterte administration for the next five years was made possible following a request from Aleson Shipping Lines and other stakeholders requesting the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) headed by Cabinet Secretary Datu Abul Khaye Dangcal Alonto for the abolition of the travel tax for economic reasons.
However, all ferry passengers must have a valid passport, letter of invitation, accommodation bookings, and immigration interview before departure clearance is issued by the Immigration Department in Zamboanga City.
The travel policy is a security measure to protect the welfare and interests of all passengers.
This was disclosed by the representative of the Philippine-based Aleson Shipping Lines in Sabah, Juvy Saminte Tulipas. Aleson is the recognised operator of the Zamboanga-Sandakan weekly ferry service.
Juvy said Aleson is expected to see an increased in passenger load in the remaining months of the year, especially during the Yuletide season.
With Aleson having received good response from the public in the ongoing 3-day travel fair in Zamboanga City plus the decision to abolish the travel tax, she said Sabah can expect a rise in arrivals of genuine tourists from the Philippines now and even in 2019.
"Our participation in the "Exposicion de Viajes en Zamboanga" is designed to further boost the tourism industry of both neighbouring borders," Juvy said.
Speaking from Zamboanga City, she said the Aleson booth received an overwhelming response from potential holiday-makers coming from the business sector, educational institutions, government agencies, sports organisations, and the public at large since day one.
According to Juvy, Aleson will also organise a similar promotional campaign for Sabah during the BIMP-EAGA BEBC tourism cluster meeting scheduled to be held later this month in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippine.
Meanwhile, its Vice-President for Sales and Marketing Danica Joy Tan said the new vessel M/V Antonia I now plying the route, is equipped with first-class tourist accommodation and other hospitality services to ensure the 16-hour sea journey is stress-free and enjoyable.
She said the 3-decker tourist ship is designed to accommodate 800 passengers and has a spacious cargo compartment to facilitate the needs of businessmen and traders.
"Antonia l departs Zamboanga City port every Monday at 12 noon and arrive in Sandakan Port the following day. On the same day of arrival in Sandakan, the vessel returns to its port of origin right after the embarkation and loading of Zamboanga bound passengers and cargoes at 6pm," she said.
"I wish to remind all our valued passengers to bring along their the necessary travel documents and other requirements to avoid unnecessary inconvenience," she said.
The ongoing travel exposition is part of the activities of this year's Zamboanga Hermosa Festival the highlights of which is on October 12, the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar, the most revered saint of the city.
Mayor Salazar said the activity, which is being held at the Centro Latino Hall of the Paseo del Mar, will run until October 7. Salazar said the exposition is the biggest tourism and travel event in the Zamboanga Peninsula with the presence of travel companies and tourism-focused organisations.
The mayor said 28 exhibitors which include airlines and shipping companies, travel agencies and tour operators, government agencies, souvenir groups, restaurants, resorts joined the exposition to offer budget travel deals.
The mayor said that pocket events will include cultural dance competitions, tourism quiz bee, regional costume competitions, and product presentations.