Photo: Tourists taking pictures at Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur on April 4, 2015. Donny Gevie / Shutterstock.com
Malaysia wants to attract 1 million visitors from the Middle East by 2020, from around 287,000 in 2016, through new airline partnerships and Muslim-friendly tour packages, Minister of Tourism and Culture Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz told Salaam Gateway.
“We have been the number one country for Islamic tourism over the last seven years, but [Middle Eastern] tourists still account for a small number,” the minister said this week at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Out of 26.8 million tourists who visited Malaysia in 2016 around 5.5 million were Muslim, and only 287,000 were from the Middle East, he said.
“We believe there is great potential to increase the number of tourists coming from the Middle East. By 2020, we hope to receive 1 million visitors from the region,” said the minister.
Malaysia has set an overall target of 36 million tourist arrivals by 2020 and 168 billion Malaysian ringgit in revenue as part of the country’s Tourism Transformational Plan. The country earned 82.1 billion ringgit ($18.9 billion) in receipts in 2016.
“The first thing we need to do is to make it easy for tourists to come to Malaysia. For Middle Eastern visitors, it’s not a problem because it’s visa-free for a stay of 90 days. For countries like China and India, the requirement used to be strict but we’ve already made it easy for them to visit,” said Abdul Aziz.
The Malaysian government introduced eVisa and visa waiver programmes for Chinese tourists in March 2016 and waived off visa fees for Indian visitors in February 2017.
“We’re also having joint promotion and cooperation with almost all airlines so that we don’t have to [entirely] depend on our national airline,” the Minister noted.
He added that the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board is collaborating with Dnata, Etihad, Emirates Airlines, Oman Air, and Qatar Airways, as well as KLM, British Airways, and Singapore Airlines.
“We hope that in 2019, we will be the country partner for ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin), which is the biggest tourism trade fair show in the world,” said Abdul Aziz.
The partnership is expected to increase awareness of the Malaysia’s tourism at the international level.
The addition of new hotels and theme parks is anticipated to boost tourist numbers.
Hotels set to open in 2019 include Jen Kuala Lumpur, Anantara Desaru Resort & Villas in in Johor Bahru, and Hyatt Place in Malacca, while the Movie Animation Park Studios at Bandar Meru is expected to open on June 26, 2017.
In East Malaysia, a less developed region with huge potential, the government is intensively promoting eco-tourism.
“We just need to have more airlines flying into the region and more hotels. This is what we’re working on now. We hope that by 2020 we’ll have more tourists coming to Malaysian Borneo,” said Abdul Aziz.
RAMADAN, ISLAMIC TOURISM
With Ramadan expected to start on May 27 and finish on June 24, the country is gearing up for tourist traffic with family-friendly packages to attract Middle Eastern visitors wanting to escape the summer heat at home.
“The weather in Malaysia is pleasant in June, and when it rains we get many Middle Eastern tourists. They love the rain because it seldom rains in the Middle East. So even during the rainy season we have special packages, especially during school holidays,” the minister said.
Malaysia was identified as the top 2016 Ramadan destination for Muslim travellers by a study from MasterCard and Singapore-based CrescentRating that looked at 30 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and 20 non-OIC countries. The study projects Malaysia to keep its lead until 2026, based on criteria of average daytime temperature, fasting duration, and score on the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI), which is a separate analysis by the two companies.
“Malaysia is a country that non-Muslim visitors come to learn about Islamic tourism. We’ve been asked to give talks in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan; they’re very aggressive about Islamic tourism and we have cooperated with them,” said the minister.
The ministry of tourism’s Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program has also helped other markets develop their Islamic tourism ecosystems, he added.
Through this scheme, the ministry invites participants from other countries, especially non-Muslim ones, to come to Malaysia and learn about Islamic tourism.
Even as the Southeast Asian nation supports its Asian neighbours’ growth of their Islamic tourism ecosystems, Malaysia is wary of competition from farther afield. Its lead on the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index over second-placed United Arab Emirates is a slim 7.2 points and 8 points over third-placed Turkey.
Its lead on the GMTI 2016 over fourth-placed Indonesia may be a bigger 11.3 points but Indonesia is accelerating its Muslim-friendly tourism efforts and has launched an aggressive campaign to woo Middle East tourists. In 2016, the two were almost neck and neck for Middle East visitors: Malaysia received 287,000 and Indonesia 240,000.
“Malaysia is still a top destination for Middle East visitors but we can’t take it for granted that they will come; there are other competitors. We have to look into family tourism and millennials and we’re also developing travel packages into Malaysia,” Musa Yusof, senior director at the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board told Salaam Gateway.
“We’re looking to increase the [tourism] market share by 3 percent or 4 percent from the Middle East. That’s why we’re collaborating with airlines in the region and that’s why we’ve partnered with Salam Standard,” said Yusof, referring to the halal hospitality rating system.
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