KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is falling behind as a destination of choice for tourists, after massive cuts for promotions and advertising. The droves of tourists who used to fly in are dwindling in numbers.
The budget for promotions and advertising has been slashed by RM50mil, to the dismay of industry players who are still reeling from the fallout from last year’s twin air tragedies.
Tourism Malaysia chairman Wee Choo Keong said the amount cut was 25% of the RM200mil that had been allocated annually for the past 15 years.
“I am appealing to the Finance Ministry to reverse this decision. Promotional activities cost money but the returns are well worth the investment,” he said.
Tourism brings in close to RM70bil annually and is the second largest foreign exchange earner and among the largest contributors to the economy.
Some 27.4 million people visited Malaysia last year but the numbers could drop back if not enough is done to woo tourists.
The promotion budget cut could result in Malaysia losing out to neighbouring countries which are spending more on such campaigns.
Wee said there was no doubt that Malaysia was being “outshined” in the region in terms of advertising.
“You only have to turn on the TV and there are ads on campaigns such as ‘Amazing Thailand’ or ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’,” he said.
Wee said Tourism Malaysia was working on improving its advertising campaigns and promotional efforts.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Hamzah Rahmat said Tourism Ministry officials had briefed MATTA about having to scale down on overseas and domestic promotions.
He said Malaysia’s tourism promotion campaigns had been less then successful lately, adding that unlike before, the current ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ advertisements lacked the “wow factor”.
“We used to have vibrant advertisements which had viewers even humming or swaying along to the tune. We need to introduce something fresh and innovative,” he said.
Hamzah said trimming the promotion budget was a bad move because the industry relied on Tourism Malaysia to sell the country to the world.
“Cost cutting may be necessary but the Government should not have slashed allocations to promote Malaysia,” he said.
He said the industry was badly hit by the air disasters and there had been a 30% drop in business across the board, over the past nine months.
“State tourism boards too did not take up any booths during July’s MATTA fair in Johor and also cut back during previous fairs,” he said.
Hamzah said that instead of scaling back, Malaysia should learn how other countries like South Korea addressed declining tourists numbers after the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
He said the Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) embarked on an aggressive promotional blitz, including at the upcoming national-level MATTA Fair to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre between Sept 4 and Sept 6.
KTO has taken 24 booths and is bringing in top K-Pop stars and other artistes to promote what the country has to offer.
Bumiputera Travel and Tour Agents Association of Malaysia (Bumitra) president Datuk Syed Mohd Razif Al Yahya Syed Yassin said the Government should spend more and not less on promoting Malaysia.
He said the weak ringgit was favourable to foreign tourists and Malaysia should take full advantage of this.
“This is the time to step up promotions,” he said.
Syed Mohd said bumiputra members were focused on providing domestic packages and any assistance to promote the country would be welcomed.