Adventure and inbound operators are rejoicing that from December 1 climbers can trek again to the summit of Mount Kinabalu using a new trail from Laban Rata to Sayat-Sayat Hut.
There isn’t much interest now in Mount Kinabalu because climbers cannot reach the summit and watch the sunrise, which is the main attraction, according to Diethelm Travel Malaysia’s managing director, Manfred Kurz. The old trail was damaged by a 6.0-magnitude earthquake earlier on June 5. “Once the new trail is completed, I am sure it will generate a lot of interest,” Kurz said.
The new trail was chosen on the advice of international mountaineering experts and geologists from Canada and Japan. Currently, climbers can trek a 6km-long trail from Timpohon Gate up to Laban Rata only at 3,300m above sea level.
Inbound tour operator, Cheryl Wang-Shim, executive director of Exotic Borneo Travel Management, said: “We had many cancellations from mountain climbing groups from Japan after the earthquake as their main objective was to climb to the summit.”
Aside from the new trail opening, Sabah Parks will also consider increasing the number of permits from 100 a day now. Its director, Jamili Nais, said: “We have not fixed the number (yet), but we will start small then gradually increase it over time. The safety of the climbers is our main concern.”
Scarlett Sue, sales manager of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges which manages Laban Rata Resthouse, said accommodation enquiries for 2016 had already started to come in from both the longhaul and Asian markets. Laban Rata Resthouse is the largest accommodation provider there and is able to house up to 60 climbers.
An inbound operator in Sabah, KL Tan, general manager of Borneo Trails Tours & Travel, said allowing climbers to the summit would help revitalise the local travel industry, in particular the surrounding areas of Kinabalu Park. Homestays, restaurants, lodges and hotels should expect better days ahead.
But agency chiefs are divided on how quickly it will take to rebuild confidence. Wang-Shim opined: “It will take some time, because this is a natural phenomenon and out of (human) control.”
Kurz gave another view: “Trekkers from Europe are mainly young people and are adventurous. They know that the earthquake in Sabah is not a regular occurrence."
Regardless, Noredah Othman, senior marketing manager at Sabah Tourism Board, said that promotions were being carried out as per normal and they were keeping overseas travel consultants abreast on the latest updates.