By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic By TMR File
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) which began its operations in 1998 was the country’s main hub for welcoming the arrival of flights from around the world.
The airport outshined the country’s then airport — the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, which is also known as Subang Airport.
It had matched unrivalled qualities coupled with characteristics that catered to a more memorable experience.
Today, Malaysia’s strong economic ties with other nations around the world have helped spur the country’s growth as more flights are choosing regional airports as their preferred first port of call rather than KL’s main hub.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), the secondbusiest airport in Malaysia which sits on the island of Sabah and dubbed the “Maldives of South-East Asia”, welcomed more than 7.2 million passengers in 2016.
Sabah, with its white powdery beaches and tranquil blue waters has long been a tourist destination, in fact, its tourism industry has contributed majorly to the overall economy of the island.
The island’s hub saw an increase of 430,000 visitors in 2017 with 3.65 million coming from China alone when Xiamen Air began accepting direct flights from Fuzhou, central China to KK in January 2017.
On Jan 16, 2018, the airline made its inaugural flight from Beijing to KKIA.
There are about 178 international flights out of KKIA as of today, and the island’s hub welcomes 14 international flights on a weekly basis.
Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, according to a recent report, however, said there is more work that needs to be done for KKIA to be on a par with other airports in the region.
According to Masidi, to cater to the needs of the rising numbers of tourists, especially from China, several companies have been asked to construct and build new hotels.
“Out of the total number of international arrivals to the island, Chinese visitors accounts to 34% to 35%, and more are expected,” Masidi was quoted by the Borneo Post.
Chinese engineering student, Coco, who is presently studying at Universiti Teknologi Mara said when she heard about the new route to Beijing, she couldn’t resist the temptation of making a trip to the beautiful islands of KK before returning to her homeland.
“We have always wanted to visit Sabah as we have heard so many wonderful things about the island and its people, so, when we found out we can book a return flight direct to Xiamen from there, we immediately booked our tickets,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
The island of Penang, also known as the “Pearl of the Orient” received 7.2 million passengers last year compared to 6.6 million recorded the previous year.
The Penang International Airport (PIA), which is designed to take in 6.5 million passengers yearly, has carriers operating from Cathay Pacific, China Southern Airlines, Wings Air, as well as Thai Airways International, to name a few.
The numbers of latest passenger movements had an increase of 8% year-on-year (YoY) in 2017 for an airport designed to take in 6.5 million passengers yearly, according to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
“Our data revealed an immensely healthy tourism boom, with a 10.38% increase of international passengers, and 6.27% increase of domestic passengers into the island,” he said in a recent report.
PIA also look forward to upgrade its facilities as promised by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak in his Budget 2018 speech last October.
Meanwhile, on a more positive note, PIA will debut its first long-haul flight next Tuesday with Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight from Doha landing in PIA.
Senai International Airport
Connected by air to eight international cities, such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Surabaya, Guangzhou, Macau, Kolkata and Seoul, Johor Baru (JB) has also become the region’s gateway hub for business travellers as well as investors.
South Korea’s Jin Air Co Ltd announced on Jan 2, 2018, that the airline will extend its services by flying directly from South Korea to Senai International Airport in JB beginning with two flights each week — with the aim of increasing this number to four flights weekly in June 2018.
Johor tourism, domestic trade and consumerism committee chairman Datuk Tee Siew Kiong said in a report that as of July 2017 there were 72,000 tourists that hailed from South Korea with a majority of them visiting when the cold winter season hit.
“During their winter season in Korea, these visitors come here to enjoy the sunny weather on the beach, visiting the nearby islands, and also a game of golf or two,” Tee was quoted by another daily.
There were about three million passengers to JB recorded last year alone.
Acknowledging the longterm plan to expand JB as the region’s key business hub and gateway, home-bred AirAsia Bhd also announced a JB-Macau route last year.
In summary, regional airports have been seeing an influx of tourists and investors alike due to the country’s ever-growing economy with all the developing infrastructures that are taking place in the country today.
Initiatives like China’s Belt and Road, which will impact a variety of industries in the country, are also expected to propel the economy forward. This also include the means by air.
It is therefore vital that these airports are upgraded and kept up-to-standard to push for higher passenger traffic, as well as to boost the country’s economy.
With Budget 2018, there are plans to set up new airports in the Tioman Island in Perak as well as Mukah in Sarawak, and Malaysians can expect to see more changes in the tourism sector.