Malaysia puts out welcome mat for Arabs

Get your retail therapy in one of Malaysia’s many malls

IN a bid to take tourists beyond Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is promoting places like the Portuguese settlement of Melaka and the rainforest state of Sabah, in the eastern part of the country, to Arabs.

Tourism Malaysia director (overseas) Middle East and Africa Zalizam Zakaria says the tourism body will roll out special packages soon. “We will be promoting spa awareness, diving and summer camps among other things. Malaysia has always been popular with Arabs,” he says.
For the past two years, he says, the country’s ‘Feel at Home’ programme has targeted Arab travellers. “The Arab tourist is made to feel at home right from the time he lands at the airport. We make announcements in Arabic and there are signboards too in the language.”
Establishments across the country, from malls to hotels, have employed part-time Arabic-speaking staff, he says. Arabic food is also widely available in hotels, shopping centres and food districts, and Zakaria says the department has worked with local tourism products and services to cater specifically to Arab travellers’ tastes. “We are trying our best to cater to them. Hotels are adjusting their mealtimes so that breakfast or any other meal is available later than usual. For example, breakfast will be available till 11am, lunch till 4pm and dinner also later. Even parks, which are popular with Arabs, are kept open past midnight to cater to them,” he says.
Like everywhere else, Arab tourists are long-staying, vacationing from two weeks to three months. “They are also big spenders and this is good for Malaysia's economy,” says Zakaria.
The summer shopping festivals, which run from late July to early September, are very popular with the Arab traveller, he says, adding that the shopping offers quality at cheaper prices. “We have been opening more theme parks in Malaysia and more malls, hotels and serviced apartments.”
With travellers from the Middle East heading to Malaysian for medical treatments, Zakaria says the tourism body is increasingly targeting the wellness market with tourism products. “These travellers can easily combine their medical treatment along with their holiday,” he says.
Malaysia has been witnessing a steady increase in tourist arrivals from this region. Last year the country attracted around 150,000 tourists from the Gulf, a 17 per cent increase from 2004.

Zakaria said Tourism Malaysia is gearing up for Visit Malaysia 2007 which coincides with the country's 50 years of independence.
Visit Malaysia was held before in 1990 and 1994.
Malaysia has set a target of 20 million visitors and $ 12 billion in revenue for the year 2007, which also marks the golden anniversary of the country’s independence. A slew of events are being organised next year to meet this target, and the tourism body hopes to attract some 200,000 visitors from the Middle East.
"We are talking to the agents and airlines and coming up with attractive packages. We are confident that we will get the figures," says Zakaria.
Over 240 events around the year are being scheduled to add lustre to the tropical country's well established tourist attractions that drew over 15 million people in 2005.
Events are also being organized in the Middle East, particularly the Gulf region, in order to woo more tourists from the region next year.
(With inputs from Mridula Bhattacharya).
by Babu Kalyanpur