KOTA KINABALU: Chinese tourists are expected to make a long awaited “comeback” to Sabah as China is slated to ease its border restrictions soon.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin said the reopening of China’s borders will enable two airlines, namely China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, to resume direct flights to Kota Kinabalu.

He said foreign tourists, particularly the Chinese, were important in helping boost the state’s tourism industry to its pre-pandemic level.

“China’s tourists are eager for their international borders to fully reopen so that they can also travel to Sabah,” he said during a meeting with several Chinese airline heads in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Among those present were China Southern Airlines general manager Eric Wang, China Eastern Airlines general manager Lu Jing, China Air general manager Yin Jian Min and Xiamen Airlines sales manager Gao Yashuang.

Jafry said Sabah received 593,623 visitors from China in 2018, which increased to 598,566 the following year.

He hoped more tourists from China would return to Sabah soon to help the tourism sector regain its lustre.

It was reported on Wednesday that China will resume quarantine-free travel to Macau as the city recovers from its worst ever Covid-19 outbreak.