Travel bubble in the works to draw Singapore tourists to Malaysia's Sabah state

The travel bubble approach has been recommended for now by the authorities, as safety must be prioritised.
The travel bubble approach has been recommended for now by the authorities, as safety must be prioritised.PHOTO: SUTERAATMANTANANI.COM

KOTA BELUD (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Sabah's government is working on an exclusive travel bubble plan to allow Singapore tourists into the state after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Jafry Ariffin said his ministry is awaiting the state Cabinet's green light for the plan while discussions are ongoing with various stakeholders.

"We are in discussions with Sutera Harbour Resort (SHR) and Sutera  @  Mantanani to provide a separate, safe travel route from Singapore directly to Kota Kinabalu and Mantanani island (Kota Belud).

"On our ministry's part, we need to fine-tune this with stakeholders like Malaysia Airports Holdings so we can tighten our SOP (standard operating procedure) where needed.

"Then we will discuss with the Tourism Ministry and Singapore. So, it will most likely happen after Hari Raya," he told reporters after launching 40 new premium chalets at the Sutera @ Mantanani Island Resort and Spa on Wednesday (March 31).

Commenting on the event, he said he hopes the new chalets, which are additions to the 30 existing ones, would have a multiplier effect on the local communities.

In response to a suggestion by the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents' (Matta) that Sabah should prepare a road map and timeline on the reopening of borders for international travel, he said the ministry is doing its best but as safety must be prioritised, the travel bubble approach has been recommended for now.

SHR group chief executive officer Gilbert Ee said the company's priority is to provide employment for the local community, especially young people who are interested to venture into the world of hospitality but are unable to do so due to financial difficulties or other hindrances.

Meanwhile, Magellan Sutera Resort general manager Adrian de Rozario believed the travel bubble approach would be the way forward for tourism as the sector recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He voiced support for and welcomed the state government's effort to draw up SOPs for travelling, with SHR being the first tourism operator approved for travel bubble activities for its Mantanani property.

"Since we were allowed to be part of the travel bubble in early March, our Mantanani premises have received 60 per cent occupancy from locals, even reaching as high as 90 per cent on weekends," said Mr de Rozario, who also oversees Sutera @ Mantanani.

He said while the travel bubble meant that stricter SOPs have been enforced, the resort was able to accommodate tourists, and the staff were trained to ensure their utmost safety.

"I do not see any issues or challenges as visitors are eager to go for holidays, and will cooperate and follow the protocol.

"I believe that as we recover from Covid-19, travel bubbles will be a new way of travelling for the time being, including at the larger scale, with country-to-country agreements," he added.