Interview with YB Datuk Christina Liew, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister cum Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment


The tourism sector in Sabah is in a period of change. Discover new tourist attractions to take Sabah tourism to greater heights! We were honoured to sit down with Deputy Chief Minister and new Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah, YB Datuk Christina Liew about the promise of tourism events.

SMB: Tell us about yourself.
DCL: My name is Christina Liew and I was a practicing lawyer for over 20 years. After taking on the role as Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah, it took a good two or three months’ adjustment and I am fully settled now in my new job and new role. And I am very happy with what I am doing right now to see what I can contribute for the State! It is a very good challenge.

SMB: What are your major priorities for Tourism in Sabah?
DCL: Of course, we are looking into more tourists coming into Sabah. Not only tourists, but also investors in the tourism-related industries. Fortunately, we have been able to attract quite a number of investors from all around the world and they showed their keen interest to invest in Sabah.

Although we wish to have more tourists coming, our priorities are also to have repeat tourists coming back here to explore the West and East Coasts. Therefore, a balance of tourism marketing in our products is a priority too. In Sandakan, we have the Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor characterised by sanctuaries for the orangutan and sunbears, and in Tawau, we have the world’s tallest tropical tree (Shorea faguetiana family: Dipterocarpaceae). Tourists can then proceed to Semporna for its world-famous diving spots and head to Lahad Datu to trek in one of the oldest rainforests in the world. With this, we hope owners of the tourism premises will be able to cooperate with the government to make tourists excited to come back to experience our new products.

The Chief Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Panglima Shafie bin Apdal was correct when he said Tourism is the third largest income contributor of the state. Tourism truly benefits everyone, but we have to do our job to focus on sustainable tourism and eco-tourism as well as to help the community-based tourism sector.

SMB: Where do you see Sabah’s tourism sector growth in 2019?
DCL: The Chinese market is the biggest growth and fastest in Sabah. They contribute to about 50% of our international tourist arrivals. For 2019, I have emphasised that we will have to branch out to a more balanced tourism development. This means, we will maintain China tourists or even a little bit more, but we have diversified to European countries, America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea. We successfully achieved the mark of 3.8 million tourist arrivals in 2018 and we are pushing for more than 4 million or more in 2019. We have started our action plans and I will be leading my team overseas to promote Sabah. It will be an exciting year in 2019.

I’m very fortunate to have the help and co-operation from my senior officers under the ministry and my panels of advisors.

SMB: What are Sabah’s biggest tourism assets?
DCL: We are very fortunate as Sabahans. We have the biggest asset that not every country has – which is nature. We have beautiful islands, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, amazing rainforests, over 200 species of orchids, endemic flora and fauna, culture and many more. We should be proud of what we have. All these need to be promoted and shared to the outside world – an exotic and special experience when you visit Sabah. Sabah has the whole package!

SMB: What do you think about NGOs helping and working hand in hand with this Ministry?
DCL: Of course, NGOs are contributing a lot with the environment and culture. We are very lucky in Sabah that we can all work as a family and we respect our diverse background, ethnics, and religion. I feel very fortunate that I am able to get in touch and connect with these NGOs to work hand in hand. It is heartening to understand that there are people out there who are really concerned and willing to sacrifice their time, effort, money and expertise to come here to make sure we are doing something for our protected species.

SMB : What new initiatives have you planned for 2018 and beyond?
DCL: Community-based Tourism for each district of Sabah is a big plan. They started two years ago with four districts and I am happy to launch the District Tourism Council in sixteen districts recently in November 2018. So my objective in 2019 is to try and help all the districts, including the sub-districts in Sabah.

SMB: According to media reports, you would like to create hotspots in focus areas such as Sandakan and Tawau that have the potential to draw tourists to further boost the sector. Can you tell us what is your plan?
DCL: We started the New Year 2019 with #CutiCutiTawau. With the help of local industry players, we also recently launched more than 30 packages for tourists to visit Tawau. We also hope to get more direct flights scheduled or chartered to Tawau so that tourists can stay for a good two or three days and visit the hotspots before continuing with their island tour in Semporna. We are also looking into upgrading the facilities of Tawau Hills Park where tourists are able to enjoy the beautiful waterfall, rivers and the hot springs.

Sandakan has a lot of sanctuaries and they are different from the other destinations that we have in Sabah. Tourists who make their way to Sandakan have a special agenda, which is to have a good understanding of the wildlife. And Lahad Datu and Silam are perfect for diving – visibility is mostly 20m to 25m. Apart from diving, jungle trekking is amazing at many nature and wildlife reserves. I am going to Maliau Basin in 2019 and I am looking forward to it!

We will look into upgrading the facilities of Poring Hot Spring in Ranau as well as looking into the cleanliness of KK City. We will look at other districts to help the local community to enhance what they have. So, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau, prepare for a busy year!

SMB: How would you use your position to further empower women in Sabah?
DCL: I only have one word to say. For the women, especially the women that I see, they are very capable. “The sky is your limit” – You don’t need anyone to tell you that you are good. You know you are good, so the sky is your limit and do your best. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Just break the glass ceiling!

SMB: What does it mean to be an empowered woman? Why is empowerment so important?
DCL: You must set an objective. When you are in control with what you want to do, and when you are able to follow through what you have planned to do, then you are an empowered woman. Many are unable to because of circumstances for whatever reasons. So they will have to find an alternative way or alternative ways to do it and make it happen. But still, believe in God and yourself that you can do it and you will do it.

Empowerment is so important because you want to move on. The world has changed. Women are equal. Empowerment is so important because we have to let our gentlemen understand that “I am as good as you”. So let the gentlemen understand that they have to respect the women and understand their capabilities, opinions and wisdom, and that if a woman makes a decision and the gentlemen know the decision is a good one, they must support her. That is very important. Do not in any way let those gentlemen put you down even though you know you are right. It is not an easy process, but you will make it. I have gone through that for about twenty or thirty years. It is not an easy process, but the world is kinder to you now and to the women. Things have changed, unlike before. We all have a voice now. The sky is your limit.

SMB: Where would you like to see Sabah’s tourism sector in five or 10 years? What are your longer-term goals?
DCL: We will definitely have a steady growth and healthy rate due to the hard work of the Tourism Board, all our officers as well as support from the government. We see a steady growth not only in terms of the arrival of tourists but also from the perspective of development of tourism-related projects by the investors. Local and international NGOs are always welcomed to chip in their ideas and work together to make Sabah better.

As for the long-term goals, it is not me alone to make this happen – it is everyone’s efforts. One of the things that I like about this Ministry is everyone is capable and everyone is able to contribute. It is very very important that my officers must be happy in what they are doing.

Get to know YB Christina Liew!
Favourite quote: “What you do, you carry through”
Favourite music: Jazz
Favourite food: I love curry and vegetarian food
Role model: YAB Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia cum Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. She is a very soft-spoken person, but with an iron will. Very gentle but steely and not easily broken-down.