Tears of joy fill the eyes those at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) here as the Air Asia flight AK1794 from Singapore carrying 119 passengers, the first international flight into Sabah after more than two years, landed at 2.30pm Saturday. Huziah Siwis, 35, from Telupid, Tongod said she started working as a kitchen helper in Singapore back in 2019 and could only interact with her family especially her parents through online teleconferencing.
“I can’t still believe it, my hands are still shaking. I cannot go home since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and of course I’m happy to finally being able to set foot in my home state of Sabah. “I have two weeks off from work that I will use mainly to spend time with my family here. I have my sister and her husband waiting for me and tears of joy started flowing when I saw her here,” she told reporters when met at KKIA Saturday.
Malaysia is entering the Transition to Endemic Phase starting April 1 with some concessions being given including the opening of national borders after it was closed for about years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hendry Andus, 28, the youngest of three siblings from Inanam here said his wish to shout out “We are home!” came true today when he will finally be able to embrace and hug his family members.
“It’s a challenge for people working abroad like us, while other countries maybe better but there is no comparing to our own Sabah and Malaysia. Like they said ‘hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri’ we still choose our own beloved home,” said Hendry who has been working as a technician in Singapore since 2017.
Jacques Franck, 70, a tourist from France said he was glad to finally be able to enjoy Sabah for his holidays.
“I always love Sabah and had been coming here for years for holidays, of course I was very sad when I was not able to come here, but now I’m planning to go enjoy the beautiful islands and forests here,” said the retiree.
Meanwhile, state Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said the Sabah government had been working tirelessly with all parties to keep Sabah on top of tourists’ and travellers’ minds.
“Welcome home to our very own Sabahans, while to tourist and travellers, welcome to our home and do enjoy your stay here,” he said when welcoming the 119 passengers of AK 1794 flight, with 30 per cent being Singaporeans.
The flight touched down at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport at 2.19pm.
Singapore will continue to be a key market and important hub for Sabah following the return of direct international flights between the Lion City and Kota Kinabalu.
“I would like to commend AirAsia for being the first airline to open up the international flight for Sabah this is a momentous occasion for all involved.
“Singapore is a very important market to Sabah as it has been our focus market for many years now and it is also a highly important hub for Sabah as it connects our other focus markets around the world into Sabah,” said Joniston.
Noting Singaporeans’ love of nature, diving and adventure, he said Singaporeans may now look forward to travelling to Sabah and indulging in their passions once more with the reinstatement of the Singapore-Kota Kinabalu route.
Joniston said his ministry through the Sabah Tourism Board had planned several promotional initiatives to entice Singaporeans to return to Sabah.
From April 22-28, he said the Board and Sabah Industry Players will attend the Travel Malaysia Digital Fair.
“Through this Fair, the Singaporean consumers will be presented with many selections of tourism products and stays. We received strong support from the Sabah industry players as well whereby they highlight their popular packages such as wildlife, nature and adventure.
“Looking back to a pre-pandemic time, this Fair had managed to attract many Singaporeans into Sabah and we are confident this trend will return as currently, enquiries from Singapore on Sabah tourism packages have already started to pour in,” said Joniston.
The Smart Locals, one of Singapore’s leading online publishers, will link the event’s platform to a Sabah digital campaign to help the state’s tourism players succeed at the Travel Malaysia Digital Fair, he added.
According to Joniston, the low-cost carrier AirAsia has been an important contributor to Sabah’s economy through tourism and hospitality since its presence in 2001.
“I am pleased to learn that AirAsia has expanded its offerings beyond flights, and is now home to several thriving e-commerce ventures, namely its one-stop platform, the AirAsia Super App.
“In line with the transition to an endemic phase, I believe that this resumption of international flights comes at the right time for both tourists and locals in Sabah, who have been excitedly anticipating and planning their travels,” he said.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sabah received 126,000 passengers through Singapore. Singaporeans account for 34,000 of the total.
Meanwhile, AirAsia (airlines) chief commercial officer Tan Mai Yin stated that the airline is currently operating thrice-weekly flights between Singapore and Kota Kinabalu, with daily flights beginning on April 29.
“We are also reviewing direct flights from Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia to Kota Kinabalu. We are excited about this and we will announce a further update,” she said.
Tan added that they expected the direct route from Thailand and the Philippines to begin in the first half of this year, with the rest following in the second half.
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