AirAsia Philippines has resumed flights to Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah. It will also expand passenger and cargo operations in Zamboanga City in Mindanao in June. These regular services are expected to help revive travel and boost economic activities in the BIMP-EAGA subregion, which has not been spared from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a news release, Sabah Tourism Board (STB) Chairman Noredah Othman said, “We are pleased to welcome the return of AirAsia Philippines flight to Kota Kinabalu. This is AirAsia’s second international flight to Kota Kinabalu after Singapore. We are excited that international flights are progressively resuming since we rely heavily on air connectivity for our tourism arrivals. STB will continue to promote Sabah as a holiday destination to the Philippines market especially to those interested in climbing Mt. Kinabalu and other niche tourism products.”
The low-cost airline, which is part of the Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia Group, started twice weekly flights between the Philippines’ capital, Manila, and Kota Kinabalu on 27 May. It announced that it will also resume flights to more destinations in Southeast Asia in June, including other cities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand.
AirAsia Philippines Chief Executive Officer Ricky Isla said, “Our resumption of flights to key ASEAN destinations starting with Kota Kinabalu signifies our recovery especially in the international market. We hope to revive the tourism and economy of Sabah with the resumption of the Kota Kinabalu flights. We believe that the easing of safety protocols and test requirements by our neighboring countries have also revived the urge to travel among Filipinos.”
A survey commissioned by AirAsia Philippines in December 2021 showed Filipinos are willing to travel in smaller groups this year with their families (69%), partners (40%) and close friends (24%) should international travel protocols relax. Top destinations picked by Filipino travelers include Singapore (73%) and Japan (71%). Ranking ninth in the list of top preferred international destinations of Filipinos is Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, with 47% of the participants including the destination in their top choices.
Kota Kinabalu is home to an array of tropical islands, lush rainforests and the UNESCO World Heritage site, Mount Kinabalu. It offers eco-, wellness, health, sports, and cultural tourism attractions and activities. The city is also the industrial and commercial center of Sabah.
Economic hub in Mindanao
AirAsia Philippines also announced earlier that it will start expanded daily cargo operations in Zamboanga City in June, following the installation of new x-ray machines and the availability of a bigger warehouse. These expansion initiatives will allow AirAsia to fly more than 200 tons of both passengers and commercial cargo per month between Zamboanga and Manila.
Zamboanga City is an economic hub in the Mindanao region, with marine product exports comprising 90% of cargo shipments.
The airline is also increasing its flight frequency to the city from twice weekly to daily flights starting June. It launched the route in October 2020. Zamboanga is known as Asia’s Latin City and the flagship tourism destination of Western Mindanao.
AirAsia Philippines Spokesperson and Head of Communications and Public Affairs Steve Dailisan said, “Zamboanga City is the gateway to the entire peninsula, making it a critical and strategic hub for any transport business. We hope that with the increased flight frequency and expanded cargo operations, we can continue to aid in the growth of the city’s tourism and trade industries. We are confident that Zamboanga City, through the Zamboanga City International Airport, is poised to be a key economic driver for the region as the country gears for post-pandemic recovery.”
The Zamboanga City International Airport were among the BIMP-EAGA airport projects completed in 2020–2021. The building of new airports and the improvement of airport facilities in the subregion have continued despite the pandemic. These and other connectivity infrastructure projects are important to post-COVID-19 recovery in easing the movement of goods and passengers between countries.