MALAYSIA’S growing popularity as a holiday destination for Arab tourists could mean as many as 300,000 tourists from the Middle East this year, according to a tourism official.
"In 2007 year we are looking for 300.000 Arab tourists, and the number of visitors from the Gulf has risen phenomenally over the last few years,” said Tuan Razali Tuan Omar, the new Malaysia Tourism director to the Middle East and Iran.
The authority expects the increased numbers will result from a year-long tourism promotional campaign, the largest that the agency has organized in the past 20 years.
“The campaign we are organizing, Visit Malaysia 2007, campaign seeks to attract an additional number of travellers from this region. We have successfully achieved our past growth expectations, and are set to continue that trend.”
Overall, the authority hopes to receive 20 million visitors and $12 billion in tourism revenues in 2007, up from 16.43 million and earnings of $8.72 billion in 2005. In 2006, Malaysia received a total of 17.5 million international tourists.
Inbound tourism from the Middle East last year was around 190,000 tourists.
According to the WTTC, travel and tourism are expected to generate 117.2 billion ringgit ($33.6 billion) of economic activity in 2007, a figure that is expected to boom to 300.9 billion ringgit ($89.8 billion) by 2017.
This year was a significant milestone in the history of Malaysia as it marks 50 years of the country’s independence from British rule.
Saudi Arabia remains the most important regional market for Malaysia, followed by the UAE.
“Arabs and GCC nationals do not require visas to travel to Malaysia and can stay up to three months after arriving in the country and at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), we have announcements in Arabic. We have encouraged employment of more Arab-speaking staff at travel agencies and hotels and urged the shopping complexes to put up signs in Arabic," Tuan said.
Malaysia has also launched a ‘Feel-at-Home’ campaign specifically to target Middle East tourists. A Kuala Lumpur street has been given the Arabic name 'Ain Arabia'. The area is a showcase of various Arabic and Middle Eastern food and cultures and visiting Arab families are handled by a special immigration lane at KLIA. Arabic-speaking staff has also been assigned at the airport to assist Arab travellers and some hotels and restaurants in Malaysia also have employees who are fluent in Arabic.
“Over the years, Malaysia was able to position itself as one of the Middle East travelers’ preferred holiday destinations in Southeast Asia. We are constantly working towards meeting their requirements, especially the Arab tourists,” he added.
Answering the question of what are the key cities that focusing on by tourism Malaysia on the promotional campaign, Razali said: “We have 13 states in Malaysia and each state has its own capital and each capital has its own attraction and uniqueness. However, in the context of promotions, we are focusing more on the niche products whereby we encourage product owners and operators to develop services and products suitable for international markets”.
Malaysia is a value for money destination. With the cost of living in Malaysia relatively low and the accommodation rate at four- and five-star hotels is around $150 per night. One Malaysian Ringgit is roughly equal to one UAE Dirham.