GATEWAY TO SABAH’S EAST COAST
Sabah Deputy Chief Minister-cum-Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Christina Liew Chin Jin has shown herself to be quick to address the pertinent issues on the ground affecting the tourism and hospitality industry in Tawau.
As the member of parliament for Tawau, Christina, 68, could see the huge potential in her constituency as being more than just a transit point to Sabah’s East Coast where the island tourism in Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking and Sipadan, could be developed to Tawau’s advantage.
She is looking at tourists staying longer like up to two days in Tawau before departing to Semporna and islands like Sipadan, one of the world’s most beautiful scuba diving spots.
The lawyer-turned-politician kick-started 2019 with the Cuti-Cuti Tawau campaign, working with the local industry players to launch over 30 packages to woo more tourists to stay longer in Tawau to explore its offerings.
In anticipation of the influx of tourists coming in from the efforts that have been put in into this campaign, Christina also urged the various parties involved to upgrade their respective facilities. They include one of its star attractions, the 22,972-hectare Tawau Hills Park which boasts of the world’s tallest tropical tree of Shorea faguetiana species from the Diptercarpaceae family.
Located about 24 km from Tawau, the park also features a waterfall, suspension bridge, jungle treks, river and herbal garden. It is also rich in flora and fauna. Amenities here include picnic areas, barbeque pits, a camping site and cabins for accommodation.
Other popular tourist attractions in Tawau include the Teck Guan Cocoa Village and Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, which is founded in the 1970s by Datuk Seri Panglima Hong Teck Guan. However, both visits are by appointments only.
To drive more tourism into Tawau, Christina believes in creating “hotspots” for tourists. By promoting Tawau as a hub for cheap and fresh seafood, she hopes that they will stay longer before heading for the popular island destinations. Near the Sabindo Square is a concentration of seafood restaurants such as the famous Kam Ling Seafood Restaurant that cater mainly to the Chinese tourists because of their live seafood offerings.
Another interesting sight to explore in Tawau is the Bell Tower, also known as Belfry. It is the oldest standing structure built by the Japanese here. There is also the Japanese War Memorial. Other attractions include the Confrontation Memorial, Bukit Gemuk and Masjid Al Kautsar, the largest mosque in Sabah which can accommodate 17,000 worshippers.
Don’t forget another landmark in Tawau, Tanjung Market. As Sabah’s biggest indoor market with over 1,000 stalls now housed inside the UTC building, dried anchovies, cuttlefish and other seafood can be purchased before you depart from Sabah’s third largest town.
THE UNDISCOVERED GEMS
Located on the southeast coast of Sabah, the Tawau district shares a land border with Indonesia’s East Kalimantan, now North Kalimantan. Covering a land area of 6,243 sq km, it is surrounded by the Sulu Sea to the east and the Sulawesi Sea to the south.
The Tawau district comes under the local authority, Majlis Perbandaran Tawau (MPT) or Tawau Municipal Council, which was upgraded to be a town council in 1982 when Tawau’s population exceeded 100,000. It was previously a district council.
According to Statistics Department, its population is estimated at over 506,700 in 2018. Comprising different races and ethnicities, 287,900 of them are made up of Bumiputeras, which include the Malays, Kadazan Dusuns, Bajaus and Muruts. The rest of its citizens comes under Chinese (45,200) and others (18,600). Meanwhile, its non-Malaysian citizens account for the remaining balance of 218,800 of Tawau’s total population.
MPT’S STRATEGIC PLANS FOR TAWAU
Majlis Perbandaran Tawau (MPT) is responsible for carrying out various development activities that includes town planning and the preparation of a structural plan for the Tawau district. It coordinates and assists in the development of towns and new townships.
Its role also extends to the beautification and landscaping of the Tawau district, making it an attractive place to live, work and play. MPT is thus very much involved in handling many of its local affairs.
Under MPT’s Strategic Plans 2018-2022, which is a continuation of its Strategic Plans 2013-2015, its vision is to transform Tawau into a progressive, dynamic, prosperous and sustainable municipality by 2022.
Its mission, on the other hand, is to provide management services that are efficient, effective, responsible and beneficial to the people of Tawau.
One of the objectives listed in its Strategic Plans 2018-2022 are to ensure a more comprehensive, dynamic, modern and visionary town planning for the Tawau district.
It places emphasis on the following core values: integrity, responsive, harmony, brilliant, effective, efficient, creative and innovative. Besides having a clear direction of its goals, its president TPr. Alijus @ Mohd Ali Haji Sipil believes that the plans can only succeed with the commitment and cooperation of all parties involved.
Airlink checked with him and his team what are some of the progress made, particularly those pertaining to tourism in the Tawau district, with the latest emphasis placed by the Sabah state government to go beyond its capital city of Kota Kinabalu into districts like Tawau and Sandakan.
Since you took over MPT as president in January 2016, what are some of the projects that have been completed to date?
The projects include the one-stop Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) which is managed by us. Previously known as the Tanjung Market, it was renovated to become an integrated complex housing government departments and agencies with the market sited on the ground floor. UTC has been operational since 15 August 2016.
Other projects completed since 2017 are a landscape development programme and the Tawau Ferry Terminal where Fokasjadi Sdn Bhd is the concessionaire. The RM18 million Sri Indah regional bus station managed by us has been operating since 2018 after its completion in late 2017.
Can you share a bit about the plans for Visit Tawau 2020?
A Tawau Tourism Action Body/Committee was established to develop tourism in the Tawau district. After several meetings with the key industry players, Tawau holiday packages targeted at China, Europe and domestic markets were drawn up. They were launched by the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) and Sabah Tourism at MATTA Fair Sabah held July last year in Kota Kinabalu.
Following the launch of these packages, we have witnessed the presence of Chinese tourists in Tawau. As a precursor to Visit Tawau Year and Visit Malaysia Year to be held in 2020, Cuti-Cuti Tawau was launched at the start of this year.
With Sabah being selected as Malaysia’s Favourite Destination at the coming MATTA Fair in Kuala Lumpur in March from 15-17, we hope Tawau will be able to gain more visibility among the local tourists.
We will continue to promote annual events like the Tawau International Cultural Festival which has been organised since 2011. Others include the Food Festival in April and the Fruits Festival in June and July. Not many people are aware of our capabilities to produce good quality Musang King durians due to our rich soil.
What do you think will attract more tourists to Tawau?
Food tourism as we are rich in agricultural produce and have an abundance of seafood, which is comparatively cheaper than in Kota Kinabalu as prawn farming is an important economic activity in Tawau. The Chinese tourists who have started coming here go for our seafood.
Thanks to our rich volcanic soil, we are also major producers of cocoa and oil palm. The Teck Guan Cocoa Museum is not only a significant historical attraction for tourists but it also sells a variety of cocoa products such as chocolate jam and hot cocoa beverages.
We should promote the various cultures in Tawau since we have 32 ethnic groups residing here. Besides looking into its natural attractions, there is also huge potential to be tapped from eco, adventure and heritage tourism.
Places like the Sankina Hot Spring Park, Balung River Eco Resort and Balung Cocos are some of the interesting places. We also have as many as 17 hiking trails which come under the Forest Reserve.
The Shan Shui Golf and Country Club, with its 18-hole championship golf course designed by Nelson & Haworth, is popular with the Japanese.
We are also promoting health tourism to help draw in tourists from Indonesia and Kalimantan North. Currently, we have two specialist hospitals, including the Tawau Specialist Centre, with another in the pipeline.
With Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew’s plans to drive more tourism beyond Kota Kinabalu into places like Tawau, how do you view the hotel scenario here?
The budget hotels and those providing bed and breakfast have been on the rise in Tawau but we do not have any international hotels of five-star standards here yet. The majority of the budget hotels are located near the Fajar commercial area while the newer hotels are centred around Jalan Haji Karim where our MPT office is located.
Located slightly near from here is the fourstar Promenade Hotel. Being the tallest hotel in Tawau, this business hotel, which is sited next to a mall, offers good views of Tawau. Currently, Tawau has some 19 hotels with 1,000 rooms. The Chinese tourists who come here on their packages stay mainly in Shervinton Executive Boutique Hotel, Heritage Hotel and Mataking Resort.
How do you view the strengthening of the connectivity with Sarawak with the introduction of AirAsia’s four-weekly flights from Kuching to Tawau on 2 December 2018?
It will certainly benefit Tawau, the transit point to some of the world’s best diving spots like Sipadan island.
What are the new attractions in Tawau that tourists must not miss while they are here?
For those who are interested in street art, they might want to check out the lighthouse mural art near the Bell Tower attraction. There is another popular mural by our local artist who goes by the name Jimmy Art at Jalan Haji Karim featuring community unity. At our MPT wall building at Jalan Persatuan, there is another mural done by him entitled Tawau. Another wall painting can be found in Bandar Sri Indah Bus Terminal.
The Tawau Hills Park’s tallest tropical tree in the world at 96.9 metres was discovered on 28 May last year. It will be worth your time to travel 24 km from the town to view this giant tree, which can be found at about 9.5 km from the Park’s main station. The Park is accessible by road.
Another new attraction is The Peaks Observation Deck, which soft opened on 28 December 2018, offering panoramic views of Tawau. Located at Jalan Stesen TV and 1,200 feet above sea level, it is surrounded by forest reserve and palm oil plantations. They say you haven’t seen Tawau unless you get up here.
What is your vision five years from now for Tawau?
Many of my expectations are reflected in the goals we hope to achieve under the Strategic Plans 2018-2022 for Tawau. As such, I expect to see the opening up of more socio-economic activities as we create new business areas for it. Hopefully by 2022, most if not all of its squatter woes would have been dealt with and the people getting better quality of life from the services that MPT provide.