THE government has embarked on a series of measures to draw back tourists from the Middle East, in the wake of the setback suffered by the local tourism industry as a result of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China and other countries in the region.
Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tourism Malaysia) director-general Datuk Abdullah Jonid told StarBiz the initiatives taken since last month included:
·Appointing public relation agencies in the Middle East, in a joint effort with Malaysia Airlines (MAS).
·Organising road shows to the region which included, among others, medical representatives.
·Promoting attractively-priced MAS packages, to be launched today, and
·Creating a loyalty programme through smart partnerships with selected airlines and tour operators in the Middle East.
These measures, Abdullah said, were developed following a May 4 meeting co-chaired by him and MAS managing director Datuk Md Nor Yusof. Also Present at the meeting were the Malaysian Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Datuk Syed Hussein Al-Habshee, Tourism Malaysia officers and MAS managers.
On the PR exercise, he said the appointed agencies, paid for by Tourism Malaysia and MAS, would cover four markets: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Turkey.
“We don’t want to tackle the issue of SARS and the crisis of confidence it had caused through advertising. The more you advertise to say you’re SARS-free, the more people will ask, ‘Are you hiding something?’ So our strategy is to tackle the fear to travel to Malaysia through an effective, efficient and professional public relations exercise,” Abdullah said.
The government has also sent a special team, which included a representative from the medical profession, to the Middle East to tell travel agents, tour operators and consumers there that Malaysia is a safe place to visit.
One road show covered Jeddah, Riyadh and Dharan, and another, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah.
He said that from tomorrow, a team would also be visiting Doha, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, accompanied by a medical officer from the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia.
“The third thing we will do is to offer special, attractively- priced packages to travellers from the Middle East, done together with MAS,” he said, adding that these MAS packages would be launched today under the name Showcase Malaysia.
On the loyalty programme targeted at tour operators, airlines and the mass media in the Middle East, Abdullah noted that Tourism Malaysia had, for example, supported Emirates Holidays in the promotion of the latter’s packages to Malaysia.
“During my last visit to the Middle East (early last month), I took the opportunity to meet senior executives from Saudi Arabian Airlines, Gulf Air and Emirates Airlines as well as a few tour operators to establish that brand loyalty programme in the Middle East market,” he said.
Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir also had a meeting on May 27 with seven airlines from the Middle East countries.
“All the airline representatives were duly briefed on the various initiatives undertaken by the government to assure them that SARS is well under control in Malaysia, that we’re well protected from SARS, while at the same time appealing to them not to suspend but instead to continue their services to Malaysia,” he said.
“Most of the airlines were very responsive. They have given the undertaking to support our initiatives to draw more travellers from the Middle East. For example, Saudi Arabian Airlines said it was quite prepared to launch more than 100 additional flights to Malaysia, depending on the demand.”
Morever, Abdullah disclosed, the minister had only just returned from a working visit to four countries –Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon – to convince them about how attractive Malaysia is as a tourist destination and to foster two-way relationships with those countries.
Other specific initiatives taken included inviting 59 guests from the Middle East to the Colours of Malaysia celebrations recently, to let the world know that Malaysia was safe from SARS, Abdullah added.