Raking in the Arab dollar

Over the past two years Malaysia has developed into a prime destination for tourists from the Middle East and its popularity is likely to just keep on growing. Here's why.

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By  Massoud Derhally Published  January 5, 2003

|~||~||~|It’s not Malaysia — it’s truly Asia. Things are looking good for this Southeast Asian country, which has succeeded in establishing itself as a tourist destination post 9-11. Arab. It has done well by attracting Arab tourists that have shied away from Europe and North American because of the difficulty in obtaining visas and avoiding what they see as discriminatory measures such as racial profiling and finger-printing.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, a U.N.-affiliated trade agency South East Asia accounts for 5.8% of the world’s tourism market share and the number of international tourists that visit the region have incrementally increased in the last ten years. For a country that was affected by two years of recession in East Asia, Malaysia has managed to come out on top.

Tourism now is the number two earner of foreign exchange. In 2001, the country saw 12.7 million tourists arrive generating Dhs 27 billion (US $27b), says Aminuddin bin Ab. Hamid, marketing consultant for Tourism Malaysia in the UAE. Malaysia’s tourist arrivals from the Middle East for 2001 were 127,000 and it appears the trend is set to continue.

“Up to August [2002] we are up around 11% on 2001 and the biggest generating market for us is Saudi Arabia and number two is the UAE, followed by Kuwait,” says Hamid. “Tourist arrivals from the UAE have also increased by 500% and this is because of accessibility. When you do a promotion in a certain country you have to make sure that people can get there. So the current flight frequency between and Kula Lumpur is about 52 flights per week,” adds Hamid.

Dato’ Tuan Ibrahim Tengku Abdullah, the regional manager of Malaysian Airlines in the UAE says, they are now operating seven flights a week to Kula Lumpur from Dubai. “We have seen an increase in passengers to KL during the summer months and expect the same travel pattern to prevail in the next summer season. We have been very competitive with our fares. We have seen an increase in traffic of about 17-20% in 2002 and 10-15% in 2001,” says Abdullah.
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Malaysia has been at the forefront when it comes to marketing itself not only as premier spot, but also as an exotic destination and one that caters to tourists of all income levels. The country’s tourism authority has done the circuits be it the local newspaper in the Gulf, the radio station, television channel, CNN, BBC and its playing host the Formula One.

“There has been a massive increase in tourism from the entire Gulf and I think it will continue in the coming year,” says Ahmed Amin, marketing manager for Kanoo Travel in Dubai. “There are many reasons for the changes, the socio-political situation globally is changing, therefore the travel patterns have changed, lesser people are travelling to the West and the closer destinations are becoming more favoured and among them Malaysia is very popular,” adds Amin.

Malaysia is inexpensive when compared to other destinations, and that has been key to it success. “You get more value for money. If you go to Europe and you spend money, you get certain things in return, but if you go to Malaysia and spend the same amount you get better returns. One of the critical reasons why this is happening is because of the active role that the Malaysian Tourism Authority plays. They are very proactive,” says Amin Ahmed of Kanoo Travel.

“We have everything. We have the rain forest, which is 40 minutes from the capital city. We have theme parks for family and recreation, the beaches, the islands and shopping,” says Hamid of Tourism Malaysia. “In one year we have three promotional campaigns for shopping, which is in March, August and December. Also you can never stay in a five star hotel in the world for less then US $100 a night with breakfast, Malaysia is the only place,” says Hamid of Tourism Malaysia. The selling point for Malaysia, he emphasizes is that it is a value for money destination and the cultural melting pot of Asia.
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But Malaysia is also looking at ways of reinventing itself and diversifying its revenue base. The country has launched and plans to capitalise on its ‘Malaysia your second home’ promotion which will allow foreigners to buy property in Malaysia and obtain a resident visa as a result.

“This was launched in the summer of 2002 and has attracted foreigners who want to retire or have a vacation home,” says Hamid. The minimum amount of a property is Dhs 150, 000 and there are other criteria such as a minimum yearly income or net worth in order to qualify.

The choices are endless for tourists but the country plans to do more in terms of promotional activities in 2003 and attract different travellers. Malaysia, according to Hamid will be launching a campaign that will set Malaysia as an alternative destination for those who wish to get a higher education, and also increase health tourism.

“You can get good quality treatment at very low rates compared to Europe or the UAE,” says Hamid. “We are also targeting corporate organisations to pick Malaysia as the venue for meeting incentives, conventions and exhibitions. Saudi Arabia so far has been the biggest incentive mover and we have received companies from the health and oil sector.”

Talk to any traveller from the Middle East that has been to Malaysia and they cant stop themselves from going into a rave about how friendly the people are in Kula Lumpur, about the endless shopping, the parks. Even Arab businessmen and bankers say there is something to admire about that country — that it’s a case study other countries can learn from. “Its amasing what that country was able to achieve in the last 40 years,” says one banker, “Arabs have a lot to learn.”

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