Friday, December 12, 2008

Sabah nation's No 1 destination

Kuala Lumpur: Sabah dropped a bombshell at the Diplomatic Tourism Awards night, Wednesday, when it won the prestigious Celcom "Favourite Tourist Destination" gold award in a revolutionary judging system where ambassadors and senior diplomats voted.

Since about 70 diplomats in Malaysia voted, the verdict reflected strong element of "world" perception and opinion of Sabah. That point was actually verbalised by the event's organisers.

"Indeed we have the world with us tonight," remarked Dato Shamsul Falak Abdul Kadir, President of the Kuala Lumpur Tourism Council, noting the presence of ambassadors and senior representatives from 70 countries.

"I believe this is their vote of confidence in Sabah," said a beaming Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah Minister of Culture, Tourism and Environment, after receiving the award from His Excellency Alfredo Morelli, Ambassador of Argentina, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Dato Sri Zulhasanan Rafique, Minister of Federal Territories, at a packed "Diplomacy In Tourism Dinner" at Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur.

Malacca, Penang and Langkawi were among the nominees for the "Favourite Tourist Destination" category. The chase for the gold in the end was between Sabah and Langkawi but Sabah came out tops and Langkawi took the Silver.

"Finally, we can say we have the most beautiful state in Malaysia and I think what puts us above everyone else is the natural friendliness of the people of Sabah and the fact that our racial make-up is second to none in the whole country.

"We have a world class destination and we have a world class population who are naturally friendly, not judgmental, always welcome visitors as brothers and sisters," he said.

"The most-heard comments I have received from foreigners is we are naturally friendly, that we don't seem to be burdened by racial or religious baggage. They say it is only in Sabah they find people who don't talk about religion and don't talk about race," Masidi reflected.

" But a very important point I want to say about this is that I see it as a vote of affirmation that Sabah is safe which should put to bed doubts about the security issue," he said.

The main point about Diplomacy In Tourism is the idea of "reciprocal tourism," noted Dato Sri Zulhasnan Rafique in his speech.

Putting diplomats into the travel trade picture reflects a new recognition that they can indeed become key players in the development of "reciprocal tourism," he said.

Dato Shamsul cited the AirAsia mantra "Now everyone can fly" to highlight the trend that Malaysians are flying out in almost equal numbers as foreign tourist arrivals to the country.

Citing 2007 statistics, he said while tourist arrivals in Malaysia was 24.9 million, the outflow of Malaysians was about 20 million.

This changing travelling landscape in Malaysia alone makes it clear that Malaysia is not asking a one-way traffic but that new opportunities are already there to help each other gain by tapping into each other's tourist market for mutually profitable tourism.

There were eight categories in the Diplomatic Tourism Awards, namely:

-favourite western cuisine restaurant; favourite asian cuisine restaurant;

-favourite entertainment outlet; favourite spa; favourite hotel/resort;

-favourite shopping complex and favourite tourist destination.

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