By the same token therefore,SARS alsobrings fear to the general public.Thus whatSARS and the Asian financial crisis have incommon was the creation of a crisis of confidence.
Because,why should investors come toMalaysia during the Asian financial crisis?They were not comfortable,the ringgit wasgoing down in value until the Governmentstepped in and pegged it to the US dollar.That in itself stabilised consumers'confidence.Now we're dealing with the same crisis of confidence.To me,there should be less talk,thereshould be less publicity (on SARS).
Star:But the thing about it is that people in the Gulf States are not aware.
Abdullah:I would come to that.This is my preamble to the whole thing.
Star:But Datuk,if we didn't publicise SARS in the newspapers,wouldn't the rumours and word of mouth be more damaging?Because word of mouth can be even more powerful than the newspapers.
Abdullah:Okay.What I'm saying is:mustyou position the news as a front page story?There's no death.You say,two RMN guys diedof probable SARS,and in the end,it was not so. What have you created?You have created the feeling that something's really wrong with Malaysia.The next day you said there's no SARS,but the damage had been done.Don'tget me wrong.I'm very passionate in my job(Laughter).
Rashid:It's true what Datuk said.Sometimes the headlines were so bold:Twodead from SARS.But when you read the story,it's in Beijing.This was not related to our own country and it made people scared.
Abdullah:So,having said all that,what we do as far as the Middle Eastern market is concerned?During the height of SARS,we suspended all our campaigns in the Middle East because of many factors.Number one,it was not their holiday season yet.The MiddleEastern holiday season begins from the 3rdweek of June until mid-September,so we didnot want to waste the limited resources thatwe have by going on a year-to-year kind ofcampaign.
That's why most of our advertising cam-paigns,with the exceptions of China,HongKong and Taiwan,were suspended until May1.We resumed our campaign immediatelyafter that to stimulate greater interest ofMiddle Eastern travellers through our adver-tising blitz over the print media and variousterrestrial and satellite TV networks,including CNBC,Al-Arabia,and so on.
Star:You've started all these?
Abdullah:Yes.We are spending a great deal of money to make sure that the publicity on Malaysia is heightened throughout the Middle Eastern countries.
The next thing we did was to organise aregional meeting of Tourism Malaysia officers, MAS managers,together with our ambassador in Abu Dhabi.This meeting on May 4 was to get exclusive feedback from the MAS managers in all the stations,be they in Jeddah, Beirut,Lebanon,Cairo or United ArabEmirates,in addition to the feedback from ourthree offices in the Middle East (one in Dubai looking after United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region plus Kuwait,another in Jeddahresponsible for Saudi Arabia,and the third inIstanbul,Turkey).
This meeting was co-chaired by me and theMAS managing director in the presence of ourambassador.Having got all the necessary feed-back,what we have decided and are implementing,are the following:
One,because misconception becomes anissue of great importance to be addressed,wehave decided to appoint professional publicrelations agencies – one in Dubai looking after United Arab Emirates,the Gulf and Kuwait area;another in Jeddah looking after Saudi Arabia;one in Lebanon;and the other one in Turkey.We are using the combined resources of MAS and Tourism Malaysia.We don't want to tackle the issue of SARS and the crisis of confidence through advertising.So our strategy is to tackle the fear of travel to Malaysia through an effective,efficient,professional public rela-tion exercise.
Number two,we decided to send a specialteam on road shows to most of the countries in the Middle East and this special team includes a representative of the medical profession in Malaysia.
We ’ve done three roadshows – one coveringJeddah,Riyadh,Teheran and another coveringAbu Dhabi,Dubai,and Sharjah (UAE).Recently,we sent another team to Doha,Bahrain,Oman,Qatar and Kuwait,togetherwith a medical officer from the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia,to tell the travel agents,tour operators and the consumers there that Malaysia is a safe place to visit – we ’re SARS-free.We have to take this initiative in order to convince these people.
The third thing we ’re doing is offering spe-cial,attractively priced packages to the travellers from the Middle East,done togetherwith MAS.These packages have been launchedunder the name Showcase Malaysia.
The fourth thing is to develop a loyalty pro-gramme by establishing smart partnershipswith selected operators and airlines in theMiddle East.We have supported EmiratesHolidays,as a good example,in the promotionof their packages to Malaysia.During my lastvisit to the Middle East (early May),I took the opportunity to meet senior officials from Saudi Airlines,Gulf Air and Emirates Airlines and a few tour operators to establish that brand loyalty programme in the Middle East market.
My minister had a very good meeting onMay 27 with seven airlines from MiddleEastern countries.All the airline representatives were duly briefed on the various initiatives undertaken by the government to ensure that SARS is well under control in Malaysia, that we ’re well protected from SARS,and at the same time we appealed to them not to suspend but to continue their services to Malaysia.
Most of the airlines were very responsiveand have given the undertaking to support ourinitiatives to draw in more travellers from the Middle East.For example,Saudi Air is prepared to even launch over 100 additional flights into Malaysia depending on the demand.
My minister has just returned from hisworking visit to Turkey,Syria,Jordan andLebanon.In 10 days,the minister and his teamwere on a promotional drive to these coun-tries to convince them on how attractiveMalaysia is in order to increase tourist traffic to Malaysia,besides fostering two-way tourism relationships between those countries and Malaysia.
During the last Colours of Malaysia festivalin late May,we brought in,as an initiative toconvince the world that Malaysia is safe,1,005 invitees from over 30 countries to not only witness the Colours of Malaysia but also to go on a familiarisation visit throughout the country.None of them was affected by SARS.Fiftynine of the invitees came from the Middle East, with at least four TV filming crews.
These are the few things we ’re doing.In thecontext of the limited resources that we have, we don ’t have the stimulus package the private sector is getting.
Iskandar:We haven ’t gotten it yet...(laughter all round)
Abdullah:Perhaps it would also be good for us to take note of the initiatives undertaken by our neighbours.Singapore is spending S$200mil in its new campaign known as Singapore Roars.
It ’s going to be an extensive promotionalblitz to convince world travellers thatSingapore is no more a SARS-affected country.The Thai government has allocated aboutUS$30mil to do an extensive PR exercise androad show to draw in visitors to Thailand,andit has come out with a new campaign,ThailandSmiles Plus.Hong Kong has also made some initiatives tostimulate interest among world travellers tovisit Hong Kong.Malaysia is doing it by combining theresources of Tourism Malaysia with those ofMAS and the private sector.