Sabah Tourism Board chairman Joniston Bangkuai is optimistic the route will thrive because it is supported by the existing trade between the island and Kudat.
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s tourism industry is set for a big boost with the launching of the roll-on roll-off ferry service between Kudat and Palawan in the Philippines next month, says Joniston Bangkuai.
The Sabah Tourism Board chairman told FMT that Palawan Island is well-known for its thriving tourism industry and the connectivity will especially be welcomed in northern Sabah.
“However, tourists landing in Kudat might also include the rest of Sabah in their travel itinerary,” he said.
Currently, he said, Kudat is already a tourist destination in its own right with ample accommodation, and tourist and transportation services.
Joniston was also hopeful the direct connection would help spur trade activities between Sabah and Palawan.
It had been reported that the number of Sabahan businessmen visiting Palawan to scout for business opportunities had been increasing steadily ever since news broke of the ferry service.
Sabah used to have a direct flight connecting Kota Kinabalu and Puerto Princessa in Palawan, served by MASwings but it was suspended in 2014 as the route was deemed commercially unviable.
Joniston said while the previous experience might be a cause for caution, this new venture would be different.
“There is already ongoing trade via the sea being run on a small scale between Kudat and Palawan and the ferry service could take the trade to another level as it could transport larger cargo,” he said.
Joniston said that while the ferry service might not appeal to everybody as it would take hours to reach the destination, the operators might consider improving the vessel and upgrade it to a cruise ship one day.
“They have to start somewhere. I am sure the operators have done feasibility studies; otherwise they may not even venture into this.
“Whatever it is, let us just wait and see. I heard the price is quite affordable and I am sure many Sabahans would want to go there too,” he said.
The Archipelago Philippines Ferries Corporation (APFC), which will operate the ferry service, has assigned a catamaran-type of multi-hauled ship consisting of two hulls which can be sailed or engine-powered on the new route.
The ferry is designed to accommodate up to 300 passengers and 40 to 50 vehicles plus cargo. The trip will take about six hours depending on sea and weather conditions to reach Bululuyan Port in Palawan from Kudat port.
According to APFC general manager Segundo C. Mentoya Jr, sea marshals would be assigned on every voyage to ensure the safety of passengers.
The sea route had been one of the most talked about between both countries since it was first mooted more than five years ago.
Palawan Island had been named one of the world’s top islands by readers of CNN Traveler magazine in 2014.