Chief Executive Officer of Sabah Tourism Board (STB)

Having moved from the rank and file within STB, Noredah Othman, 53, has chalked up almost 31 years with this 45-year-old organisation, amassing experiences in varied fields such as leisure travel, public affairs, event management, marketing communications and support services like information technology. Her managerial responsibilities involved marketing Sabah, the land below the wind, to the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Her recognition in promoting Sabah’s nature-based tourism saw her recently appointed as Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) executive board member. 

Having been with STB for over 30 years, what are some highlights of your career?
The past 30 years of service feels like yesterday for me perhaps because I have always loved my job and my passion for tourism has not wavered at all. Promoting tourism is not as easy as many may think but it definitely is exciting and at most times challenging, especially during the current global conditions.

My most memorable highlights were the opportunities to interact and meet dignitaries from the world over. I had the privilege to organise events for two of our Kings, other royalties and important guests. When I was the communication manager from 1991- 2005, I had the opportunity to handle film crews and production houses from BBC, National Geographic and Discovery that brought personalities such as Sir David Attenborough. In 2015, I was the lucky recipient of a PATA scholarship for the Executive Development for Tourism programme held in the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

What are the strategies to speed up the recovery of Sabah tourism sector which has been impacted by the raging Covid-19 pandemic?
We are looking at speeding up the full vaccination status for all our tourism industry players besides offering safe and clean accreditation for our tourism products. We also need to provide a level of confidence and comfort to both the travellers coming to Sabah and our local players.

Destination awareness and constant reminders to travellers about Sabah as their choice of holiday destination are one of our priorities, especially during this period where our travels have been limited. We do so through multiple digital platforms and campaigns working with our global stakeholders and partners in key markets.

What are some challenges faced by STB and how do you hope to resolve them?
One of the main challenges is the moderate vaccination rate in Sabah, which is hindering us from opening the state to visitors and tourists alike. However, we are confident the state government’s target of 60% herd immunisation will be achieved by October as Sabah has reached 55% vaccination rate of its targeted adult population in the second week of September. Meanwhile, we have started immunisation for children between 12 and 17 years old.

Our next challenge involves rebuilding visitors’ confidence. In this respect, we are looking into providing accreditation for our tourism products and will be working with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for safe and clean certification. The readiness of our tourism players may also post a challenge after the long period of inactivity created by the pandemic. Through the Sabah Tourism Recovery Committee, we have conducted frequent meetings to engage with the stakeholders and tourism players to not only update them but also to gather their feedback and suggestions which will aid in the industry’s road to recovery.

The new criteria for the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme have been reported to be damaging in terms of investment and tourism. Your Borneo sister state has set up its own Sarawak- MM2H requirements. Will Sabah be following in her footsteps?
The Sabah state government is studying the impact of the new changes in the criteria of the MM2H programme announced by the Federal Ministry. Sabah values the programme and we believe its continuity will contribute to the growth of our tourism industry and socio-economic development.

Where were the majority of the MM2H applicants to Sabah from?
According to data from the Immigration for 2009 until 2019, the top five countries for MM2H were from China, South Korea, the UK, Japan and Australia.

STB led eight Sabah tourism industry players to participate in the virtual PATA Travel Mart (PTM) held in September. How successful was this event in promoting the state and locking in forward contract sales?
The objectives of participating in PTM were to reinforce Sabah’s presence in Asia Pacific’s tourism scene, show that we are optimistic of the future of travel and assure our tourism players and partners we are always ready for business. We managed to secure 27 scheduled appointments with interested buyers and believe these appointments will eventually translate into prospects when travel restrictions are lifted. The chances of being seen by over 75,000 Chinese and international trade professionals through this event have proven to be a successful strategic branding exercise and product placement feat.

You mentioned trying to establish “isolation travel” in a recent PTM panel discussion during the on-going pandemic. Can you elaborate on this?
Isolation travel is a term akin to travel bubble or sandbox travel. Instead of going to a populated area or popular tourist attraction, isolation travel brings you to a premium tourism destination in Sabah. The main idea is that you will be isolated while travelling. You can be in a premium rainforest surrounded by nothing but nature or being surrounded by only sand and sea.

Imagine spending several nights in a luxury jungle resort in a primary rainforest with a private butler in Danum Valley or on an island holiday with your own private beach. All this is done by observing privacy and strict standard operating procedures right from your arrival to your departure where contact with other people is limited. More details are being fine-tuned to meet the requirements of the current situation in order to make the whole arrangements workable, especially in ensuring a seamless point-to- point journey.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) has been included as part of the Hybrid City Alliance alongside Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Kuching by MyCEB. What will this mean for Sabah and how will it open up the state’s business event (BE) opportunities?
Sabah will be able to enjoy the benefits of connecting with global network partners and foster collaboration through knowledge sharing, innovation and tools to produce hybrid and multi-city events. We believe this alliance will increase the meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) buyers’ confidence in KK’s ability to host such events, thus providing a new path for destination management companies and MICE suppliers in Sabah among the BE industry.

STB’s successful participation in Jin Air’s Flight to Nowhere in promoting Sabah to the passengers onboard is expected to be replicated by other Korean airlines. Has it happened and what is the state promoting to the Koreans?
Following the successful collaboration with Jin Air, we proceeded to work with Jeju Air and Air Busan on similar concepts to continuously refresh and keep Sabah’s presence in the market, reminding the Koreans that it is one of their favourite holiday destinations. Such collaborations also encourage the airlines to keep Sabah in their priority list once international borders reopen.

With the reopening soon of more domestic tourist destinations in Malaysia, where do you wish to take your family for a holiday this year-end?
My three children have been home and not attending their boarding schools for almost 20 months due to the lockdown. When travel reopens, I would like to bring them to Sabah’s rural areas to see more of our local tourism products.

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