New tourism product in pipeline in Sabah

Exclusive Interview: YB Datuk Christina Liew, Deputy Chief Minister, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah

YB Datuk Christina Liew has held the position of Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Tourism, Culture and Environment in Sabah for around nine months, since the election of the new government. We asked her what she aims to change in her new position.

Overall, I want to increase the number of new products on the market. To attract more tourists to Sabah, we have to put new products in place – not just the same old thing. We have a number of products – at least four or ve in 2019. I have been in constant discussions with the GM and Chairman of the STB about what I have in mind, and that we need the support to get it changed. It’s time. Of course, after our initial discussion and planning, we will be sending it to the Chief Minister and cabinet to get it approved and get it done… and I am a very impatient person. Very impatient. Adding on more products for tourism is my number one goal. I also have a plan to expand existing product. For example, the hot springs in the National Park are rather old. They are very nice, but they are 45 years old, so we need to upgrade them. One of the major products we will be undertaking is in Tawau, as it is a gateway to Eastern Sabah. I have been in discussions with the Minister of Transport as well as the Malaysia Airports Bhd CEO, and they are fully supportive that Tawau airport will be a top priority. While not promoting its status from Domestic to International, we need at least to get the facilities upgraded.

WE ARE GOING TO INVITE ALL THE PALM OIL PRODUCERS, BIG OR SMALL, TO SURRENDER THEIR LAND TO CREATE A FOOD CORRIDOR FOR THE ELEPHANTS AND THE ORANGUTANS.

When reading social media about Borneo, many people claim that orangutans will be extinct in the next ten years. What is the real story?

The orangutan is one of our very precious protected species – very precious to us. The state government, through our wildlife department, will do its best to protect this species. If I ever catch anyone killing an orangutan, I will ensure they are dealt with by the full force of the law. Some people are already behind bars for having killed orangutans. We take this very seriously.

What about issues of deforestation and palm oil?

A number of people think that there is deforestation, and the land is being converted into Palm plantations, depriving our unique wildlife, like orangutans, elephants and so on, of their habitat, depriving them of food, and the elephants damage the plantations looking for food. There are cases like this, but we are tackling the problem head-on. We are going to invite all the palm oil producers, big or small, to surrender their land to create a food corridor for the elephants and the orangutans. This means that on each side of the plantations, we will plant food. When I return to Sabah next week I will be holding discussions with the Chief Minister to move this forward. These animals are national treasures, and we need to protect them. They are priceless.

How has the show gone for you this year?

As far as Sabah is concerned, there is just one term to describe Sabah – and that is “exotic experience”. It is full of surprises and mysteries. In the past, tourists would visit Kota Kinabalu, the beaches, and the mountains. But now more and more are visiting the East Coast of Sabah. Another thing that is interesting more and more people is homestay. Last year in December, out of the 25 districts in Sabah, we set up 16 district homestays. It allows people to understand how our people live. The visitors live with the local people, eat with them, learn about the culture, and experience the local flavour of Sabah. Today, tourist is very much about meeting people.


Photo: YB Datuk Christina Liew Deputy Chief Minister, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah