Malaysia looks to allay tourists' fears

Malaysia is intensifying its advertising campaign to project the country as a safe destination.

Malaysia is not directly targeted, but since it is in the Asean basket, there is a tendency for all to perceive that it is not safe to visit the country." This was said by Abdul Halim Saruji, from the international promotion division of Tourism Malaysia, when asked if Malaysia was feeling the brunt of the blasts in Bali.

Saruji, however, does says that the real impact of the blasts has yet to be comprehended, but the numerous crises that have shaken the region over the years has made its tourism sector more resilient.

"Malaysia has preventive laws and instituted further measures that have successfully deterred suspected terrorists and extremists from harming the people and country," says Saruji.

He added that laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA) and others were used to act against any form of new security threats and that these laws dated back to the pre-independence days.

He said that after 9-11, Malaysia continued targeting regional markets closer to home. Attention to markets as far north as Japan, further south to Australia and New Zealand and west as far as the Middle East remained the same. Promotions to Europe, he added, would be initiated towards the end of the year.

Middle East arrivals up to October this year constituted 1.1 per cent of the total 11 million tourists, up 10.6 per cent over the same period of 2001.

Regionally, markets did not report major cancellation though safety concerns are high.

"As for Australia," says Saruji, "the security issue is critical due to the fact that most killed in Bali were Australians. In Europe, countries issued travel advisories to their citizens to either totally avoid travel or be extra careful while visiting the region."

Saruji says that Malaysia sees the future in markets closer to home. To woo back markets beyond that, corrective measures were devised and implemented to diffuse and neutralise the negativity besieging the country.

"Malaysia is intensifying its advertising campaign to project the country as a very safe destination through a TVC titled 'Peaceful Malaysia'," he adds.

In some markets, tactical campaigns are promoting competitive packages to boost arrivals. The highly successful MEGA FAM programme is further augmented to bring in more journalists, travel writers and film crews from TV stations from various markets to experience firsthand the atmosphere of peace and tranquility that prevails countrywide.

Saruji admits that traffic from the Middle East is entering its lean season. At the moment, no special promotions are in the pipeline until early next year. However, the generic campaign emphasising Malaysia, as a very safe tourist destination is ongoing in selected markets.

There are hundreds of spectacular events and festivals that have been lined up to showcase Malaysia, as well as entertain visitors to the land of festivals, carnivals and continuous merriment.

For 2003, some 499 events have already being planned for all, especially tourists, to enjoy.