Sabah tourism sector is on the right track towards stronger growth as the Government’s commitment to position the State in the international tourism map is being matched by the industry players’ proactive efforts. Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the Government’s efforts to boost the industry by allocating huge funds for improving supporting infrastructures such as the expansion of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport are matched by the private sector through the investment in new and innovative products. Musa, who said this when officiating at the opening of 90 additional luxurious rooms at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran yesterday, urged tourism operators in the State to continue developing and introducing new marketable products to attract more foreign tourists. He said one way to do this is by further incorporating local traditions and customs, especially those which are rare, into tourism products. “New areas in tourism need to be explored. For example by offering special packages to foreign tourists which intimately introduce them to the unique culture of the local people or by opening special outlets dedicated to provides guests with traditional food,” he said. He said the richly diversified culture of the local people in Sabah offers a lot of unexplored opportunities for further expanding the tourism sector and urged tourism players to creatively create new and innovative products to make Sabah a more competitive international destinations. At the same time, the industry must keep abreast with the current global trend and anticipate the future while maintaining the best quality in their services, he added. For a sustainable growth, it is important that locals are trained with new skills such as foreign languages to enable them to play important and meaningful parts in the development of the industry. Musa said Sabah has been enjoying tremendous growth in the tourism industry with hoteliers recording more than encouraging occupancy rates, especially during peak seasons such as school holidays where it is almost impossible to get rooms. He noted that for the first half of last year, the average occupancy rate for three to five star hotels in Sabah were more than 72 percent, way above the national occupancy rate of 62 percent. While the figure indicates Sabah increasing popularity as tourist destination, it also shows that the State is facing shortage of hotel rooms, he said. To meet the rising demand Sabah has created additional 402 rooms during the same period last year to cater for increasing number of both domestic and international tourists coming to Sabah. The private sector is investing in building more hotels, especially in Kota Kinabalu which is the gateway to Sabah’s wonders. New hotels are also coming up in other parts of the State, including in Sandakan, Tawau and Semporna, he said. A total of 2.47 million tourists visited Sabah last year, surpassing the 2.3 million target set by the State. The figure is an increase of 18.5 per cent compared to the 2.0 million tourists arrivals in 2006. The tourist arrivals to Malaysia is projected to reach over 24 million by 2010 and create more than 520 jobs with generated receipts of more than RM59 billion. Meanwhile, a separate event later yesterday saw the launch of a newly completed RM1O million CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort. CHI, The Spa which started operation since Dec 28 offers luxurious spa treatment with emphasizes on privacy and use of traditional herbs and medicine. It draws inspiration from the origin of the Shangri-La’s legend, high in the mystical Himalayan mountains, offering a range of therapies based on the ancient healing traditions, philosophies and rituals of China and Himalayas. CHI, The Spa in Tanjung Aru is the latest addition to the ShangriLa’s existing 12 spas throughout its chain hotels and resorts worldwide carrying the CHI concept. The spa in Tanjung Aru offers exclusive therapies that celebrate local culture and healing traditions including for example indigenous ingredients from Borneo volcanic mud to Sabah pearls and cocoa. The spa also incorporated some local products which are inspired by the Bobohizan practices such as nutmegs, red ginger, and betel leaf believed to remove negative energy. The launching was officiated by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.