The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) urged the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) to review the Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan route operated by MASwings that had been removed based on the new Public Service Obligations (PSO) 2019 Agreement effective Jan 1, 2019.
Matta President Datuk Tan Kok Liang (pic) said air connectivity plays a crucial role in helping to facilitate Sandakan's tourism development. The decision to remove the Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan route has limited the potential tourism development for Sandakan as a key eco-tourism destination."
"Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia current flight timing needs to be readjusted. For example, travel agents are facing difficulties promoting the Sandakan Day Excursion tour packages.
"AirAsia flight AK6495 (Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu) departs at 1445 hours which means guests have to skip a half-day tour in Sandakan while flight AK6499 (Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu) departs at 1805 hours and do not operate on Tuesday and Saturday."
He also said tourists connecting back to Kuala Lumpur for overseas destinations will face inconvenience for check-through luggage as Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia do not share the same code and also passenger privileges during flight retiming.
"Matta expressed concern over the news report 'MASwings forced to fly empty!' published in Daily Express on Jan 31, 2019. We appreciate if MOT and Mavcom can clarify to the tourism industry and the public, why forgo an average revenue of RM1.4 million monthly makes more commercial sense than allowing MASwings to operate the Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan route at subsidised rate.
"Flight connectivity is crucial to Sandakan as an eco-tourism destination, especially to tourists such as from UK and Europe, Japan and Australia. By having more flight schedules and options, tourism packages to Sandakan could be further personalised to meet the tourists' travel requirements."
Tan said tourist arrivals from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan are gaining momentum and such decision will definitely give a negative impact to the local economy and tourism industry.
"With an empty-run, it basically means a reduction of 3,600-seat capacity (twice daily) per month which will affect tourist arrivals to Sandakan during high season.
"MASwings needs to step up to minimise flight retiming, cancellations and commercial viability to restore market confidence," he added.