Sapi island, one of five islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
As Sabah Parks proposes a visitor cap for the five islands that form Tunku Abdul Rahman Parks, tourism players in the East Malaysian state agree that visitor numbers can be high during peak periods, while putting forward their own recommendations for protecting against environmental damage from tourism.
A tourism player based in Sabah shared: “Overcrowding happens only during the peak Chinese New Year period, when the state receives an influx of Chinese tourists. This is usually during the first two weeks of Chinese New Year and during the Golden Week holidays.
“There should be a study done first to determine whether there is a need to limit the carrying capacity, and if so, the mechanism in which to do it. The results of the study should also be made known to all the tourism stakeholders.”
Instead of putting a cap on visitor numbers, the spokesperson suggested that Sabah Parks should limit the types of activities that can be carried out to further promote green practices, as well as review entrance fees to create a budget for maintenance and environmental work.
Marilyn Semoring, a dive instructor with Borneo Divers and Sea Sports (Sabah), opined that the move to limit carrying capacity on the Islands will protect the marine life and corals on the island, but she too agreed that overcrowding was seasonal and not year round.
She said visitor surge occurs during the peak Korean and Chinese travel seasons to Sabah. A source at Sabah Parks acknowledged these trends.
The key destinations in the two markets are the islands and beaches in Sabah and Tunku Abdul Rahman parks, being only 20 minutes by boat ride from the city centre.
Semoring suggested tourists to all islands in Sabah be educated by tour operators on do’s and don’ts before they go snorkelling and diving.
According to a recent report in The Star, Jamili Nais, Sabah Parks director, had said: “We have yet to discuss the exact figures but a study has been done according to the space available, the facilities and the volume of clean water.
“The first step is to call up representatives from the tourism community including Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents and Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents. We will come up with a figure to bring to the Sabah Parks board and eventually to the Sabah tourism, culture and environment minister Christina Liew.”
He shared that numbers could reach up to 2,000 visitors per day, with an average of 400 to 500 visitors per island.
When contacted, Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents president, Lawrence Chin, declined to comment before first discussing the matter with Sabah Parks.