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Sabah Tops 2023 Tourism Target, Sets More Ambitious Goal This Year

Date Published
February 1, 2024

Mount Kinabalu is the tallest peak in Borneo and is one of Sabah's tourist attractions. Photo credit/ iStock/kaywin

Sabah recorded 2.6 million tourist arrivals in 2023, topping the 2.2-million target, thanks to aggressive and targeted marketing.

“Last year, we recorded some 2.6 million tourist arrivals (based on statistics released by the Board's Research Division). This positive track record must continue,” said Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Christina Liew in a press release. 

More ambitious goal

This year, the Sabah Tourism Board has set a more ambitious target of 2.8 million arrivals, bringing the Malaysian state closer to the pre-COVID-19 level of 4.2 million arrivals, which equalled to 9 billion ringgit ($1.93 billion) in revenue. 
"Besides reinstating flights and developing new possible flight routes, I once again would like to emphasize that the development of quality tourism products and services is a must to ensure our visitors have a memorable experience,” Liew added. In an earlier news release, she credited the resumption of international direct flights for helping boost tourist arrivals to the state.

In 2023, Sabah mounted strong presence in international and local travel fairs to entice tourists after the travel sector saw arrivals plunge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitor arrivals in Sabah in 2020 fell by more than 76% to less than a million tourists.

New accolades

Thanks to initiatives promoting travel to the state, the Sabah Tourism Board bagged the silver award at the Putra Aria Brand Awards 2023 in the transportation, travel, and tourism category. The board received the bronze award in the same category in 2022. 
Introduced in 2022 by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia, the Putra Aria Brand Awards, often dubbed the People’s Choice Awards, aims to acknowledge brands with a significant connection to Malaysians. 

The winners were picked through an online survey involving 11,000 respondents from September to October 2023. 

“I am proud of Sabah Tourism Board for not just winning the award, but also being awarded a higher tier from the previous year. It's an achievement on the part of the board,” said Liew in the release.

Aggressive marketing 

Over the past year, the Sabah Tourism Board joined local and international travel fairs to ramp up marketing.

At the World Travel Market 2023 in London in November, the board promoted the Kinabalu UNESCO Global Geopark as a tourist destination for those keen to explore the state’s rich biodiversity and unique geological features. Kinabalu received the UNESCO designation as a global geopark in May 2023.

Dominated by Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Borneo, the Kinabalu UNESCO Global Geopark in Sabah is home to many endemic plants and animals, including 90 orchid species.

In June, the board promoted the state as a premiere golfing destination, flying in Filipino golfers to Kota Kinabalu so they could sample the state’s world-class golf courses, which are set against natural backdrops and offer interesting and challenging plays available all year-round.

At the Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin (ITB Berlin) in March, tourism authorities launched a campaign, highlighting the state being part of Borneo to target the European market and capitalize on travelers' interest on the island, which is home to natural wonders, such as Mount Kinabalu, Maliau Basin, and Tip of Borneo.