Enjoy a Malaysian summer
Malaysia is making leaps in ecotourism, adding new experiential products to its already diverse tourism offering, while spotlighting its rich and colourful tradition of textiles. As a conservative estimate, the country hopes to welcome more than two million visitors this year, 75,000 of which from the Middle Eastern markets.
We speak to Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Nancy Shukri, who tells us why Malaysia should be the summer destination of choice for the Middle East.
“The Gulf has always enjoyed Malaysia in the summertime. This is the time they spend with families and so our products that entice them are focused on family-friendly activities,” she says.
“For this market who enjoys the city and shopping experience, Kuala Lumpur has so much to offer. Our shopping malls are beaming with luxury products and if they want some discounts, they can head to the Genting Premium Outlet in Genting Highlands, only one hour from Kuala Lumpur. And of course, our gastronomy is the best, because we are ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ and have wide ranging foods from the Malay, Chinese and Indian.
“But, if the Middle Eastern families miss their native cuisine, we have Arab Street in Bukit Bintang that is open till late to cater for your tastebuds.”
In 2019, Malaysia welcomed 309,224 inbound tourists from the Middle East, and for 2022 the target is to reclaim about 25 per cent of that number – some 75,000 tourists.
PARTNERSHIPS AND PRODUCTS
At the recently concluded Arabian Travel Market, Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Collaboration with Emirates Group providing much-needed push for campaigns going forward, Minister Shukri tells us. There are also ongoing collaborations and joint tactical campaigns with Al Rais Travel, which helps promote packages to Langkawi, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Selangor and Genting Highlands.
“Aside from upgrading our current products, Malaysia’s latest attractions are the newly opened outdoor theme park, Genting SkyWorld, the refurbished Sunway Resort in Kuala Lumpur, and a magnificent new attraction, the Merdeka 118, the world’s second tallest building.
“We also have two new scuba diving attractions: firstly, the Underwater Culture Gallery in Pulau Bidong, where 10 ocean and eco-friendly monuments representative of ASEAN countries were placed into the ocean. Secondly, in the Borneo State of Sabah, we discovered two Blue Ring Hole islands where people can go diving. The Blue Ring Hole islands have been there for a long time but it was recently made official by the state of Sabah and Borneo.
“Culturally, we want to push for products in fashion and textiles. Malaysia has inscribed Songket as a UNESCO Intangile Cultural Heritage in 2021. We are also going to promote ‘Batik’, which is a very colourful hand painted designed clothing. Going forward, Malaysia is looking to promot our fabrics overseas.
“We are also pushing for caravan and glamping sites. Infrastructure is underway and come summertime, tourists can come to Malaysia to enjoy the fruits. This is another Malaysian attraction we’ve come up with after the pandemic.”
Malaysia has consistently worked hard to lead the way in the Muslim-friendly space. Dubai’s Dinar Standard had ranked Malaysia number 4 in the Top 5 Muslim travel destination countries in 2019 (with estimated number of inbound tourist arrivals).
“We even have newly accredited Muslim-Friendly products in this industry, such as Halal Spa, where Malaysia is the Lead Coordinator for halal spa standards task force at the SMIIC level in 2020; and Muslim-friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) programme, which is an extension of our current star rating system, where we recognise hotels specifically in Muslim-Friendly standards.”
Minister Shukri talks about signature Malaysian hospitality as a major draw, “to keep people coming back to Malaysia as their top choice for holiday. For the past two years we have also supported seamless and digital initiatives for the restoration of international travel.”
ECOTOURISM IN MALAYSIA
In 2019, a survey conducted by Tourism Malaysia had indicated among the main activities engaged by inbound tourists are visiting islands and beaches (26.9 per cent), swimming (22.0 per cent) and visiting historical sites (31.9 per cent), which can be viewed as a proxy to ecotourism. This implies that ecotourism is relatively popular among tourists to Malaysia.
“Ecotourism is one of the main focuses of Malaysia’s tourism industry,” Minister Shukri tells us. “Tourism experience has evolved immensely through collaborations between the government, private sectors and local communities that include respect for nature, contribution to conservation, benefits to local communities, components of education and awareness, as well as sustainability.
“We have identified 60 ecotourism destinations throughout Malaysia, with 43 in Peninsular Malaysia, 9 in Sarawak and 8 in Sabah. These destinations prepare a platform for networking and collaboration among stakeholders to carry out integrated planning, knowledge sharing and conflict solutions.”
As an advocate of community-based tourism, Minister Shukri highlights the country’s signature Malaysian Homestay programme, which has 223 clusters of homestay programmes providing 6,124 rooms for the tourists. An example is the UNWTO-award winning Batu Puteh Community Ecotourism Cooperative and Misowalai Homestay in Malaysia’s state of Sabah, a licensed Malaysian Homestay awarded the A1 Grade.
The Langkawi Travel Bubble was the best pilot project to test the readiness of our industry in a pandemic situation, the minister says. The ministry will reinforce the recovery with long-term resilience and crisis preparedness. “Overall, we have achieved more than what we targeted. We received over 5,800 international tourists, she says.