`Govt should proceed with Tg Aru project`

Kota Kinabalu: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) concurs with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal that the Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED) project will create employment opportunities for many Sabahans and greatly benefit the local tourism sector.

"We urge the State Government to proceed with the project after weighing all the pros and cons provided by all quarters to ensure maximum benefit for the people," said its President Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

He said MATTA shared the same opinion with the Chief Minister that no development there should be carried out at the expense of the people.

"Safeguards are in place as our Chief Minister had also assured that an in-depth study will be carried out to determine if the project should be scaled down or other necessary actions taken such as minimising effect on the environment," Tan said.

"The economic initiative is timely as the local tourism industry needs to inject high-impact tourism development to bring Sabah to the next level," he added.

Currently, Tan said the city itself is stagnant and stale with limited offers of attractions to visitors.

The completion of the project will lure high-spending tourists and long-haul markets, especially from China, UK, Europe and Asia Pacific.

According to Tan, the current tourism business landscape that highly depends on few key regional markets may not be sustainable in the long-term for the State.

"Hence, this is crucial as the local community is highly dependent on tourism activities for livelihood.

We believe that the TAED project can create significant local employment for the younger generation and stimulate economic activities through the whole tourism supply chain and multiplier effect," he said.

According to the Statistics Department, Tan said, Sabah recorded the highest number of unemployed graduates of 27,540 in 2016 compared to other states in Malaysia.

Hence, there are many Sabahans employed in West Malaysia due to lack of employment opportunities in Sabah, he said.

"Furthermore, as the total tourist arrivals in 2017 increased by a 7.5 per cent to 3.7 million from 3.4 million in 2016, indicating a robust tourism industry, how long can we hold on with the existing tourism facilities."

"Tourism development needs to consider the sensitivity of the local community and in this case, with regards to environmental issues and public access to the Tanjung Aru beach."

On the provision of adequate public amenities and roads leading to the Tanjung Aru development, Tan said Matta hopes the State Government can give assurance to the public.

"MATTA wishes to recommend that independent directors ought to be appointed to TAED Sdn Bhd as the current structure needs further enhancement with governance and accountability.

"It is also vital to increase the public area to boost public confidence to avoid the perception that the project is only for affluent visitors.

"It is not easy to secure such a huge foreign investment with stringent terms and conditions.

We believe this project has a capacity to attract more international chain hotel network and uplift the tourism industry to another level of playing field in this region. On average our five-star beach resorts are 15-20 years old. The industry needs new and better products to stay competitive."

Tan also acknowledged that there is a need to conduct further in-depth study on Traffic Impact, especially the concern of access to the TAED area, and review the public entrance to the Prince Philip's Park.

Public accessibility to the beach must be guaranteed for perpetual, Tan concluded. - Nikko Fabian