Tourists have begun cancelling their trips due to lack of confidence in the M'sian gov't's ability

Thursday, 21 November 2013

KUALA LUMPUR - Despite assurances from the Malaysian authorities that the Pom Pom kidnap-murder would not affect Sabah's tourism industry, visitor cancellations are building up and can no longer be swept under the carpet.

"This entire episode makes us wonder about the efficiency of ESSCOM," Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai Nurul Izzah told Malaysia Chronicle.

She was referring to the Eastern Sabah Security Command established by Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier this year to tighten security in the East Malaysian state following a shock incursion by a group of Sulu gunmen at Lahad Datu.

The Malaysian authorities have fired back, deflecting blame onto the resort operators and accusing some of them of creating their own security risks by hiring illegal foreigners to work as dive masters and guides and registering these as guests.

But no amount of finger-pointing, even if valid, can turn back the clock. Only swift and decisive action could stem aversion and panic, said Sabah watchers.

For the kidnap victim who is in her 6th-day of captivity, time may be running out. Her brother who flew over from Taiwan has said she is a diabetic and requires medical treatment.

Meanwhile, would-be tourists have begun cancelling their trips due to lack of confidence in the Malaysian government's ability to resolve the safety issues promptly and effectively.

Pom Pom factor undeniable

According to the Star, several travelers have reacted to the abduction in Sabah's east coast by cancelling their bookings at resorts there.

Industry players said the cancellations particularly affected resorts in Pom Pom Island, where Taiwanese tourist Chang An Wei, 58, was abducted while her husband Hsu Li Min, 57, was shot dead on Friday.

Resort bookings especially around Semporna were definitely affected, said a tour company official.

He said travel trade players from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan had been expressing their concern about safety in Sabah's east coast.

"We anticipate cancellations over the next few weeks but this is likely to be a temporary reaction," the official said.

Lahad Datu incursion

Sabah Hotel Association president Christopher Chan said hotels in Semporna and nearby Lahad Datu had also experienced cancellations following the incident.

He said hotels in other parts of the state, including Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau, had not been affected.

However, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) vice-president K.L. Tan said it was business as usual for Sabah's tourism industry as a whole.

"We have received many inquiries about the situation. But there have been no cancellations so far," he said.

"This is an isolated incident and security challenges are everywhere. We need to minimise risks and move on."

He said other well-known travel destinations such as the United States, the Philippines and Bali in Indonesia had their own risks as well.

MATTA president Hamzah Rahmat said tourist arrivals to that particular part of the country were almost negligi­ble.



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