KUALA LUMPUR (July 12): The Labuan Corporation is currently opting to focus on the tourism sector as the main economic driver of the duty-free island to replace its dependency on the fluctuating oil and gas industry.
Its chairman Datuk Seri Amir Hussein said the agency, which comes under the Federal Territories Ministry, is also hoping that the tourism sector could help to quickly restore the economy of Labuan.
He said the first step is to attract more tourists to the island especially tourists from China, as they come Labuan from mainland Sabah.
“Sabah now receives about 280,000 tourists from China every month, so we are now collaborating with the State’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture to channel some of these tourists to Labuan.
“This move has been agreed upon by Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew, who is also the state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, as it is seen as can help alleviate the issue of accommodation in Kota Kinabalu especially when it is too crowded with tourists,” he said in an exclusive interview with Bernama.
Prior to this, it was reported that despite the recovery in the oil and gas market, it has yet to reach its previous heights in Labuan following the closure of many industry-related companies that caused more than 20,000 workers to lose their jobs in the past five years.
Amir said his office would also attract Chinese tourists to Labuan by providing a Catamaran-type ferry service, which could shorten the travel duration from the Sabah mainland to Labuan to less than two hours, compared to the passenger ferry which takes three hours 45 minutes.
“Recently, the Home Ministry has also approved visa on arrival (VOA) for tourists from China to enter Labuan,” he said.
To support the effort, the Labuan Corporation is also actively beautifying the beaches in the island including some of the focal areas for scuba diving enthusiasts, he added.
“Most of the divers I encountered praised Labuan saying that it has a charming diving area, clear seawater and beautiful marine life, it has coral reefs that match the world-famous dive sites like the Maldives.
“We also have several old shipwreck sites that have the potential to attract more dive enthusiasts to Labuan,” he said.
He noted that the duty-free island will also transform its duty-free shopping malls scattered around downtown by relocating them to one area to facilitate tourists to buy their favourite items or souvenirs.
“Other than that, we will try to offer more goods that are usually sold in premium outlets in other parts of the country at lower prices, as we do not want the tourists to only shop for liquor or cigarettes in Labuan to bring home,” he said.
According to Amir, his office is also in talks with the low-cost airline, Air Asia to make Labuan a flying hub for the Borneo archipelago, making it the main route for entry of tourists from abroad, especially from China to Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and other destinations in Borneo.
“In terms of the improving the telecommunications networks, we have met with the Minister of Communication and Multimedia, Gobind Singh Deo and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to make Labuan a testbed for 5G technology because we do have the capability in terms of infrastructure which is enough but not fully utilised.
“Hence, I have recommended to the MCMC and Telekom Malaysia to perform a test bed in Labuan because we have a strong financial sector, there are offshore banks and insurance companies all of which are of international status,” he said.