KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians are undeterred from travelling by the looming threat of war in Iraq and are taking the initiative to learn about safe tourist destinations.
Deputy Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said they showed up in large numbers at locally held international travel fairs despite the uncertain global situation.
She said this showed a change in their mindset as they took it upon themselves to gather accurate information about security, choice of destination and pricing.
Compared to the past, Malaysians are now taking the initiative to plan holidays and learn as much as possible by visiting the fairs, she said.
Dr Ng said with the threat of war in Iraq, Malaysians were opting for alternative destinations in the Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian regions.
Countries like China, Taiwan and Korea and those in Indochina are becoming popular. These areas were not heavily sought after before the Sept 11 incident in 2001 and the Bali bombing last year, she said.
Dr Ng said statistics in the World Tourism Report 2002 showed a 3.1% increase in the number of travellers last year to 750 million compared to the previous year.
This is an encouraging trend as we would have expected a decline after the terrorist attacks in the United States and Indonesia and the current Iraqi conflict, she told reporters at a press conference at the 15th Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) International Fair at the PWTC here yesterday.
Dr Ng said to counter the negative effects of war, travel operators must be creative in marketing destinations or packages for countries that were not heavily affected by the crisis.
Tour operators have to tap into huge markets like China and also strengthen domestic holiday packages to include beach and shopping attractions and promote the many festivals in Malaysia, she said, adding that the ministry had targeted 600,000 tourist arrivals from mainland China for this year.
Dr Ng said the tourism industry was a vital contributor to the country's economy as it had contributed RM39.1bil in revenue through tourist arrivals alone last year.
She said the Government was working together with Matta to probe allegations of tour operators who had overpriced their tour packages.
She said the authorities needed proof to take action, which included licence suspension, against these operators.
So far, we have only heard complaints but there is lack of evidence, she said.
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