by Carl Mosoom, BEBC Vice Chairman
A recent visit to Federal Territory of Labuan, formerly part of Sabah, have seen much progress in development and socio-economic. Renowned as a duty-free island, a lot of tourists head towards the Federal Territory during weekends and public holidays to take advantage of the status. However, Labuan is more than just a duty-free haven, as we found out during our recent visit to the island.
SATTA Chairman Dato Seri Winston Liaw organized a trip to the island on Sept 3, recently. He was accompanied by members of the media, tour agents, operators and guides from Kota Kinabalu who travelled for two hours from the Sabah State capital on a tour bus to reach the Menumbok Ferry Terminal in time for the 12.30pm ferry bound for Labuan.
The ferry ride took another hour and thirty minutes and upon our arrival, we were met by a Chinese / English speaking tour guide who brought us to several key historical sites, including the navy base of the pre-World War II.
Despite the vast development taking place on the island, Labuan has continued to keep much of its greenery and forests intact, thus making it an ideal destination for birders and entomologists. And having just returned from a three-day BIMP-EAGA Birding Workshop, I was elated to learn that Labuan has two endemic birds!
The island is also an attractive venue for sporting activities. Recently, Labuan hosted the Duathlon event, a sport series that attracted a huge turnout.
From the travel experience, I opine that the Labuan experience is best discovered travelling by land from Kota Kinabalu. The five-hour long journey from the State Capital of Sabah to Labuan allows one to discover smaller towns such as Papar and Beaufort. These towns are renowned among the people of Sabah for their local delicacies and are worth exploring. Along the way, one can also stop by the Klias River and book a tour to see the proboscis monkeys and the fireflies. The ferry service from Menumbok to Labuan is also efficient and provides a comfortable ride for passengers for a very cheap fee. Of course, for busy travelers, they can opt for air travel from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan. However, the price gap between land and air travel is wide, and travelers on a tight budget can always opt for land travel instead. Tour operators should capitalize on this route and sell it as a tour package!
Our visit to the islands of Rusukan, Kuraman and Papan provided some insights on what needs to be done to attract more visitors. One thing is certain – the government must repair the jetties on the islands. In addition, the government must also look into providing more transport facilities that are ideal to the sometimes rough sea conditions surrounding the islands.
To complement the government’s effort, the private sector can also play their part to develop the small islands. Products that could be tapped and may provide huge potentials include water sports and perhaps, a dedicated “foreign tourists only” flocking ground. This has been adopted in Dubai and other Muslim States and has proven to be successful. I also fell that if promoted well, Labuan will probably be seeing another niche market targeting celebrities coming in for a weekend island trip since it has all the potentials.
In the evening, we were treated to a sumptuous seafood dinner – a perfect end to a tiring and fruitful day touring the island. During dinner we listened to the speeches and those in attendance included Senate Malaysia member YB Senator Datuk Hj Yunus Hj Kurus, Tourism and Culture Labuan Ministry YBhg Vinson Embaran, SATTA Chairman Dato Seri Winston Liaw, Labuan Chamber of Commerce President Datuk Wong and BIMP-EAGA Business Council Vice Chairman Carl Moosom.