Pandemic pushes tourism sector in Malaysia to 'reset' travel

Local tourists enjoying some leisure time at Taman Tasik Shah Alam in Selangor. — KK SHAM/The Star

The pandemic and months of lockdown have given the tourism sector in Malaysia an opportunity to reset and do things a little better moving forward.

It was a consensus that was reached by local and international tourism experts during a recent panel discussion.

At one point, Tourism Malaysia deputy director-general Datuk Musa Yusof, who was a keynote speaker at the event, even called Covid-19 a “blessing in disguise”.

“This is a time for us to reset the whole thing,” he said, referring to Malaysia’s tourism industry.

Musa shared that in the early days of the pandemic, government agencies and other stakeholders discussed potential reset strategies, and rethink destination appeal.

“This is the time to review product qualities and in a way, decide what markets (to focus on) and then to reinvent the product or repurpose, as well as to look into different ways of marketing,” he said.

Something new

The X-Change Malaysia’21 virtual event, curated by Ab & Artho Tourism Marketing & PR, also provided some insights on travellers’ behaviour in a post-pandemic landscape.

Aerticket Emerald managing director Mariah Hamid said international travellers are now seeking experiences that they were deprived of while being stuck at home.

“It’s absolutely about aspirations. It’s all about finding new experiences in new destinations, especially when it comes to long haul travel.

“Long haul travel is all about investing time with family and sharing new experiences together,” she said.

Musa said government agencies and other tourism stakeholders have discussed potential reset strategies and rethink destination appeal. — FilepicMusa said government agencies and other tourism stakeholders have discussed potential reset strategies and rethink destination appeal. — FilepicMariah, who is based in Britain, said Malaysia is primed to attract British travellers with its array of attractions. She talked about the changes in travel trends in the British market.

“It is all about finding new experiences and doing something that is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ thing with your family.

“I think Malaysia should be on the forefront of destinations (to choose) for the long haul travel market, because there’s much more to offer especially on the nature and outdoor aspects which Malaysia is very famous for,” she said.

Mariah added that tourism providers should also cater to older travellers with the rise in multi-generational travel.

“You’re talking about three generations of travellers wanting to travel together which is quite new. Normally (travel is focused on) a lot of couples and younger children, but now it’s about three generations travelling and doing things together,” she said.

Meanwhile, France-based Asia Voyage president Guillaume Linton observed that French travellers are also keen to travel long haul again.

“We strongly feel that the public and travellers are back in the airports and are definitely keen on being able to travel again with very simple conditions; they don’t want to be harassed by crazy formalities,” he said.

Linton was referring to quarantine measurements.

“As far as quarantine is concerned, as long as there is any kind of quarantine, whether it’s for 24 hours, two days or three days... it doesn’t work (where tourism recovery is concerned).

“Travel has to be very simple, it has to be straightforward,” he said.

Linton also mentioned that post-pandemic tourists are seeking out travel agencies to plan their holidays.

“We see this new audience coming to the agencies looking for advice, support and assistance in terms of preparing the trips, and in terms of making sure that there is no misunderstanding about the formalities and about the accessibility of the destinations,” he explained.

The way forward

Earlier in the day, the panel discussion was focused on the domestic tourism market in Malaysia.

Traveloka country market manager (Malaysia) Angelica Chan said Malaysians these days find staycations and off-the-beaten path spots more attractive as getaway options.

“Consumers are now looking more into staycations. Also, some destinations that were not as popular before have now become really popular,” Chan said.

This trend has prompted tourism providers, especially online travel platforms, to change their strategies accordingly.

“This big shift in (local) consumer demands – where they actually want to stay and how many nights they want to stay for, as well as the type of hotels that they would like to stay at, has made online travel agents shift their strategies,” she said.

Chan also urged providers to focus on digitalisation to better cater to post-pandemic travellers. It was a call that was reiterated by Sarawak Tourism Board chief executive officer Sharzede Datu Salleh Askor.

“With the pandemic, you have no choice but to be part and parcel of this (digitalisation) trend already,” she said, adding that the Sarawak state government does provide incentives to tourism providers to go digital.

Ultimately, Sharzede said it’s about looking at things through a different perspective after months of downtime.

“This pandemic, in a way, makes you think differently – it makes you want to do things in a different manner,” she concluded.

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