Malaysia wants 60pc more in ME visitors

Sherbert sunset over Dolphin Bay, Palau Pankor

Malaysia marks the 50 anniversary of its independence this year with Visit Malaysia Year.

Some 247 events mark year-round celebrations, all in a bid to raise total tourist arrivals above the 20 million mark, as compared to last year’s 17.65 million. The country hopes its Middle Eastern visitors will increase 60 per cent to 300,000, as compared to 185,000 arrivals last year. This is no unachievable target, however – already, Malaysia has seen a 9.5 per cent visitor increase from the Middle East in January and February 2007.
TTN’s SHALU CHANDRAN sits down with Syed Muhadzir Jamallulil, director for the UAE, Gulf and Iran. Excerpts from an interview:

What were the arrival figures into Malaysia for 2006?
Overall we have seen a tremendous growth in arrival numbers into Malaysia with 17.65 million arrivals. From the Middle East market we have recorded 185,000 arrivals in 2006. A larger percentage of these arrivals were from Saudi Arabia followed by the UAE. Ninety per cent of these arrivals were from the GCC countries.
This has always been a trend in Malaysia since there are various reasons that attract the Gulf travellers to Malaysia. Since 1999, when arrivals from the region were around 15,000, we have reached 185,000 today. The average room nights of these Arab travellers are at 10.5 nights. Some of the factors responsible in making Malaysia a preferred destination like the various diverse attractions available here – from city shopping, to our beautiful landscapes, we are also a modern Muslim country and the ideal family destination. We can offer halal food and of course, Arab travellers do not require a visa to travel to Malaysia. We are also a value for money destination. Five-star luxury accommodation can be available for $100-$150 and Arab travellers like to stay for longer periods, making Malaysia very affordable.

What has been the response to Visit Malaysia Year 2007 so far? What are your targets for the entire year?
The Visit Malaysia Campaign was launched last year and the campaign has been progressing well so far. Since the launch, awareness of Malaysia has been great. People not only know that we are celebrating 50 years, they know what is happening in Malaysia and they know what to expect in Malaysia this year.
We have today more flights to Malaysia with local airlines including Etihad now opening routes – this is a clear indication of the demand for the destination.
We have a tall order for 2007; overall the government is targeting 20.1 million arrivals from all over the world. As for the Middle East, we are targeting arrivals of 300,000.

Is Malaysian Airlines adding more flights to cope with all this expected business?
Yes, Malaysian Airlines will introduce extra flights to Malaysia during the summer. These flights will be from the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain as well.
What kind of events has been lined up for Visit Malaysia 2007? What can tourists look forward to?
Visit Malaysia will see about 247 events in the country. There are about 50 major events in Malaysia such as the ‘Eye on Malaysia’, the recent F1 Grand Prix, the Malaysian International Aerospace Expo, the Penang Dragon Boat Festival. We will have a golden celebration celebrating the 50 years of Independence in August with the 50 Years Nationhood World Lion Dance. We have the Malaysia Mega Sales Carnival during the summer breaks, the Colours of Malaysia showcasing culture, craft and cuisine, the Floral Festival in Penang  and much more. Malaysia this year will see 365 days of festivals and events.

What specific tourism sector are you focusing on this year?
The leisure market to Malaysia is already there, but there is still room for improvement. Business is still very seasonal. We are aiming now to make Malaysia a year-round destination, and are working with industry stakeholders as well as targeting niche markets like the MICE sector, promoting adventure tourism, diving, golfing and health tourism.

What new source markets are you looking at in the region?
Iran is a new source market as well as North Africa. We see big potential in these markets.

What are your plans for the Arabian Travel Market this year?
This will be our 13th year at ATM. We look forward to doing more networking this year. We will be there with 67 travel partners from Malaysia. We want people to come not just to Kuala Lumpur, but to learn more about the country and other destinations in Malaysia.