KUALA LUMPUR: Flights are returning to the country as confidence is restored following the effects of the SARS outbreak in the region.
To begin with, Gulf-based airlines will reinstate their flights to Malaysia beginning the middle of next month.
The move follows the Government's tourism promotion efforts since last month to allay fears among Middle Eastern tourists over the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said some airlines would resume the normal frequency of their flights while several others would have additional flights to the country as they were confident that the country was safe and free of local transmission of SARS.
“We have met airlines and media representatives and tour operators in the Middle East and told them that there is no need to worry or be afraid of travelling to the country because the country is free of SARS,” he told reporters after meeting representatives from seven Middle East airlines – Emirates Airlines, Yemen Airways, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Iran Air and Jordan Airlines – at his ministry here yesterday.
“They have decided to bring back their flights to normal and increase flight frequency beginning June 15 as they are now confident that the country is safe.”
Saudi Arabian Airlines would put back seven of its daily flights and some additional flights to Malaysia effective from June 15, while Qatar Airways would have two additional flights besides five other daily flights from July 4. Iran Air would reinstate one of its flights from July 5, he said.
Saudi Arabian Airlines had cut the number of flights to the country to three from six previously while Iran Air reduced its service to Malaysia from two flights to one flight because of the SARS scare.
“We are confident that things will go back to normal,” Abdul Kadir said.
Saudi Arabian Airlines area manager (Malaysia and Singapore) Saad Al Sulaiman said that there were even forward flight bookings to Malaysia.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tunku Iskandar Tunku Abdullah said the reinstatement of flights would resolve the issue of not having enough flights to bring tourists to the country.
“This is an indication that airlines are now confident that the country is indeed free of SARS,” he said.
He said travel agents handling tourists from the Middle East were anxious that the SARS issue would affect the number of Middle East tourists visiting the country during the summer season this year.
Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association president Chay Ng said the improving situation would gradually boost tourist confidence and subsequently help the tourism industry to slowly pick up.
“The SARS situation is improving not just in the country but other countries as well includ ing Hong Kong,” he said.
Abdul Kadir said however that it would be tough to match last year’s arrivals from Arab nations, which stood at 131,779 and which accounted for RM387.5mil in tourist receipts, but “we are going to work very hard”.
He also said the Government was exploring three new markets, namely Turkey, Iran and India.
“Shortly before SARS we had nine new flights to India (from various airlines) and within a short period they had achieved between 80% and 90% load.
“When SARS hit the country, the passenger load went down to 30%,” Abdul Kadir said.
He said the Government was also making efforts to restore confidence among tourists in India by introducing attractive packages so that the passenger load would return to pre-SARS period, he said adding that the Government was negotiating with India to have additional seven or eight flights.
Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Abang Johari Tun Abang Haji Openg said the state’s tourism industry was expected to recover fully from the effects of the SARS scare by July.
He said the latest information received from Malaysia Airlines indicated that the number of tourist arrivals to Sarawak was on the rise again.
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