520px-mount_kinabalu_panoramaMELBOURNE, Feb 22 – Sabah is attracting an increasing number of Australian tourists, many wanting to cover the seven-day trek along the treacherous route taken by World War II prisoners of war in the infamous Sandakan death march.

“Our post-war heritage listing has drawn thousands of visitors from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom who have historical links with Sabah,” Sabah Tourism Board marketing manager Noredah Othman said here.

Over 1,000 Australian and British PoWs were forced to march across 260km of difficult terrain and dense tropical jungle from the Sandakan prison camp to Ranau between January and March 1945. Only six Australian PoWs survived the ordeal.

“Sabah had 26,071 tourist arrivals from Australia last year, an increase of 25 per cent from 2007 when 20,859 people visited us,” she said.

There were also arrivals from Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Ireland and from mainland Peninsular Malaysia.

“Although we enjoyed good results, we have to work harder to push our destination. We cannot sit on our laurels,” Noredah said.

“We are focusing on special interest groups because we have first-class facilities and attractions, some very unique to the world.”

Sabah had the largest Malaysian contingent at the two-day Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meeting Expo (AIME) here last week, and Noredah said she was pleased with the many inquiries.

Noredah lamented the lack of direct flights between Australian cities and Kota Kinabalu.

“We desperately want an airline – any airline – to start an Australia-Sabah service. Our tourist arrivals will swell significantly if this is available,” she said. – Bernama

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