Malaysia gearing up for more tourists


It is going to be a very busy year for the tourism industry as the country prepares for a surge of tourist arrivals. Malaysia is gearing itself to welcome 30.5 million tourists with a targeted revenue of RM103 billion this year.

The influx is expected to be driven by the emergence of the Open Skies policy in Asean, which will see more tourists in the region travelling to Malaysia to discover the country’s wonders. Asean member countries were definitely on Tourism Malaysia’s radar this year, said director-general Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.

He said it was also directing its promotional efforts at year-round markets with big populations such as China and India, and the high-income Middle Eastern market. “Shifting our attention to second- and third-tier cities will enable us to reach new target markets which are already aware of the Malaysian brand and are just waiting for the opportunity to travel,” Mirza told Business Times in an interview recently.

Second-tier cities in Europe that are also on Tourism Malaysia’s radar include Manchester and Liverpool in the United Kingdom, Lyon and Toulouse in France, St Petersburg and Minsk in Russia, and Munich and Cologne in Germany. The secondary markets to be explored in Europe included Wales, Scotland, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal and Uzbekistan, said Mirza.

He added that Tourism Malaysia had also identified Central Asia as a new and growing market. It is focusing on growing its market share in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Novosibirsk in Russia. The opening of Tourism Malaysia office in Almaty, Kazakhstan, would facilitate these matters, said Mirza. One of the highlights this year for the tourism sector is the visa-waiver programme for tourists from China, who will no longer need a visa to visit Malaysia for a period not exceeding 15 days.

The move was seen by many in the tourism, leisure, hotel and aviation industries as an important step to boost the local tourism sector. “Tourist arrivals from China have recorded an upward trend with a growth of four per cent last year,” said Mirza, adding that tourism receipts from the market rose 16.1 per cent to RM5.7 billion compared to the previous year. He said based on feedback received from industry players, such as airlines, tour operators and hoteliers, the first quarter of this year showed a rising number of arrivals from China.

Davidlohr Bueso

Davidlohr Bueso

Mirza said the trend confirmed the positive effect of the review on the visa programme. Preliminary figures indicated that the number of visa applications received in China had doubled in the first quarter of this year. More tourists from China are also expected this year as airlines offering flights from China have shown excellent load factors.

These airlines are China Southern Airlines, which flies between Guangzhou and Kota Kinabalu thrice a week, and AirAsia, which flies four times a week between Guangzhou and Langkawi. Mirza said there had been 17 charter flights from Chengdu and Kunming in China to Kota Kinabalu so far this year.

He said the reinstatement of Air China’s Beijing-Kuala Lumpur route in October last year also provided 1,016 additional seats per week. Mirza admitted that 2014 was tough for the tourism sector due to the negative publicity from foreign media on safety issues in the country as well as two air tragedies involving Malaysia Airlines flights MH370 and MH17.

According to the Tourism Malaysia website, tourism arrivals dropped to 25.7 million last year from 27.44 million in 2014. Mirza said the weaker ringgit had affected Tourism Malaysia as its overseas promotion and advertising plans became costly. However, on the positive side, Malaysia could expect more foreign tourists. “With increased tourist receipts, this would mean further development in the tourism industry, effectively creating new infrastructure and services, not to mention new tourism packages,” he added.

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