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Malaysia, Truly Asia, Coming Back Stronger

Immediately after the careful announcement of its border reopening for the international tourists, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board which is celebrating its 50th anniversary has started sensitising the travel trade and consumers around the world on why they should pick Malaysia. This time quality tourists and protecting the sustainability of its tourism wealth are the focus of the country. Says Sulaiman Bin Suip, Director, Tourism Malaysia, New Delhi Office

AFP Exclusive
June Mukherjee
Kolkata, 07-05-2022

As one of the most popular tourist choices, Malaysia has always had a rising tourist number year on year. The dreaded pandemic spoiled all the expectations Visit Malaysia Year 2020 had prepared for. Immediately after the careful announcement of its border reopening for the international tourists, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board which is celebrating its 50th anniversary has started sensitising the travel trade and consumers around the world on why they should pick Malaysia. South Asian countries led by India and supported by Bangladesh, Nepal and others are among the top source markets for Tourism Malaysia. This time quality tourists and protecting the sustainability of its tourism wealth are the focus of the country, says Sulaiman Bin Suip, Director, Tourism Malaysia New Delhi office in charge of North and East India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan

Countries are now opening their borders, and so is Malaysia. How is Malaysia planning to welcome tourists in the post-pandemic world as anyway Malaysia is a very well-known and preferred destination?

After two years of border closure due to the pandemic, now that we are reopening again, the main concern for us at the moment is to create the confidence of the travellers to travel again, choosing a destination which is safe for them to travel and Malaysia is offering them a safe destination.

We boast a high standard of SOP and all the tourism industry stakeholders are abiding by the rules from the airports to hotels to all the tourism product owners. Our number one priority is to ensure the confidence of the travellers and number two is to re-establish the awareness and network with our travel trade partners in South Asia, in our important markets like India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Hence, as soon as the announcement was made, we reactivated our communications to travel industry leaders and organised a series of roadshows in India. We plan to do many other activities in other countries as well. During the first few months we are going to be aggressive with our partners and agents in India s it is a very big market for us and at the same time, we will concentrate on other markets as I mentioned.

Besides, we're resuming advertisements in the local newspapers and magazines etc. to build up the awareness among the consumer again and encourage them to travel and choose Malaysia once again.

When you talk about awareness, even the big travel agents and tour operators are finding it difficult to keep a track of the latest information about popularly travelled countries. It goes without saying tourists are more confused. How do you plan to rule out the confusion and spell out clear cut rules to fly easily to Malaysia?

Before we announced our border opening, we did some serious study on what restrictions other destinations are imposing. Based on that study, we have already imposed a very hassle-free entry formality or SOP for travellers entering Malaysia. For example, we are only asking for an RT-PCR test 48 hours before the travel, and once you arrive in Kuala Lumpur, you have to only do an ATK test within 24 hours of your arrival at the destination. It doesn't mean that you have to do it immediately at the airport. We continue to highlight this SOP through our engagement sessions with the travel trade, key media interviews, social media, bloggers and influencers as well as videos. Every time we are meeting agents, we are continuously briefing them to alert them on the latest SOPs to enter Malaysia to make sure that everybody is aware of the same.

How would a general traveller would understand that this hotel or that eatery etc. is safe for me? What is the standardised sign language in Malaysia for health safety?

As our Minister has announced, we are implementing the highest standard of protocols for the safety of the travellers and from the aircraft to the airport to entry formality to hotels, MOTAC, the Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture, Government of Malaysia has set up rules to maintain as much as contactless engagement with the clients possible. And this set of rules is being continuously monitored by the government 24x7 until and when it is necessary to ease it later on.

As Tourism Malaysia also plan to promote a different and niche approach that is more offbeat, sustainable and green, how do you plan to attract tourists to opt for unknown destinations over the bucket list choices?

What we understand from our own experiences also, is that after two years of lockdown, everybody wants to release their stress and tension which is now being called revenge travel. What we are offering is eco-friendly destinations of Malaysia where you can breathe fresh air in the middle of breathtaking nature. South Asian tourists generally love beaches and most of them can’t do without shopping when they travel to Malaysia. Hence, we are pushing those new places that serve both purposes. I would specifically like to highlight Genting Highlands which was much awaited as an all-purpose one-stop family destination, is now open and is attracting a lot of tourists. We are also highlighting Langkawi, our duty-free island, and the colourful Sabah and Sarawak regions to the inbound tourists. We are asking our partners to encourage more of their clients to explore these places.

Considering Malaysia as an extremely Muslim-friendly destination, do you have any specific plans to mention?

We have a very high level of Halal Tourism in place. There are beautiful mosques in Malaysia to visit, exquisite Halal cuisine to taste and even Halal-friendly shopping to do. During various Muslim festivals, for example, the month of Ramadan, we have a very elaborate Ramadan bazaar (market) which itself is worth experiencing.

Despite the fact that South Asians look for home food wherever they are in the world, do you think authentic Malaysian cuisine is promoted enough?

Frankly, I don’t think so. From another angle, for example, Indians compare their own dishes available in Malaysia with the ones available back home and sometimes say it is less spicey here. We try to encourage and prioritise that too so that they are fed well and feel happy. Our Satay is one of the famous dishes that our tourists like, but we have more to do to promote our local cuisine and that’s why gastronomy is one of our major focus areas to promote in the coming days.

Give an overview of the current air connectivity status between Malaysia and its South Asian markets.

In India, at the moment we have five airlines offering around 76 flights for the summer schedule which is roughly about 40 per cent of the pre-pandemic schedule. But this number will increase by July including Bangladesh and Nepal. With the increasing numbers of flights and seating capacities, we hope to reach the pre-pandemic status by the winter season.

Who are the first movers to Malaysia as you see in the booking trends?

I think it is the MICE industry which is picking up very fast. Within two weeks of the announcement, we received enquiries of groups of a total of 3000 pax and they are looking at heading to Genting Highlands from Kuala Lumpur. Also, post-pandemic we are noticing the changing requirements and demands of the travellers because they are now thinking in a very different way about their itinerary, their perceptions have changed. Even if a small group is going for a short holiday, they're not hurrying by doing one night here and one night there, more people are willing to stay in one place for three nights, enjoy and come back. Slow travel is trending.

We are also looking at more quality tourists than just numbers. Hence, we are encouraging tourists for a longer stay and spend proportionately. Generally, Indians or Bangladeshis spend a week during their stay in Malaysia, we want them to extend that to maybe 10 days or 12 days.

We are also encouraging agents to curate their packages with other destinations like Thailand and Singapore and give maximum value for money to their clients. It is very important for the agents as well as the consumers as it lifts the value of the package more countries are covered at the same cost.

Most of the tourism boards have done their bit during or after the pandemic to grab the tourists’ attention in different ways. During the lockdown, social media was the only way to reach out. Tourism Malaysia’s new marketing plan (2022-2026) has given a lot of importance to its digital assets along with conventional print and physical communications. What is your vision on this?

Yes, we already have this in our pipeline focussing more aggressive work on social media platforms all over the world. We are now updating our database as a lot has changed during the lockdown. But we are not leaving behind the print and face-to-face communications. There are so many age groups in so many genres and so many languages and cultures to cater to and satisfy. Having feedback from the end-users is very important for us and social media helps us reach them directly. Effective travel influencers and key opinion leaders (KOL) are going to help us in understanding the true essence of travellers’ sentiments.

Two years have given respite to all the natural wonders around the world. What sustainability measures Tourism Malaysia is taking to protect some of its most-visited natural wonders from being over-exploited again?

Thank God at the moment we are not burdened with overcrowding at any of the tourist spots, we would not like to overexpose any eco-tourism spot that we want to protect. We have our National Tourism Policy in place that focuses on maximising our income from the tourism industry and getting the local community involved in local eco-tourism. So, when you get the local community engaged, they take up the responsibility to help keep the sustainability of the places.

Certain places, like in Sabah, they don't allow any overnight stays on beautiful islands like Sipadan. You can visit, you can dive, but they have a limit of 120 packs per day. The elements of control are very much in effect there.

We also have all standard sustainability rules in our national parks and popular tourist spots with signages of no plastic, use only dustbins etc. We say take back only memories and leave only footprints.

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