PETALING JAYA: The local tourism industry is on the road to recovery, having seen around one million arrivals since international borders were reopened – but more work is needed before we can break out the champagne.
Industry players said more effort is needed to ensure Malaysia regains its spot as the top tourist destination in South-East Asia, which it held five years ago.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said Malaysia has received around one million tourist arrivals since the government lifted restrictions on international travel, and he’s confident that we could easily reach the five-million mark by the end of the year.
“We are optimistic as countries from the European Union, Australia, South Korea and India, and other Asean nations, have been giving us positive feedback,” he said.
However, Malaysia should adopt a more segmented marketing strategy to attract more tourists, Tan said.
“Every country has its own uniqueness, but there are also similarities. If we say we have good food, Indonesia and Singapore would say the same; if we pitch ourselves as being a nature-based destination, Indonesia and Thailand are also doing the same thing.
“So, we have to go for those with special interests – for example, if we wish to promote Malaysia in Scandinavian countries, perhaps we can highlight our natural attractions because we know they love nature,” he added.
Tan said more concerted promotional efforts by the government and private sector, especially on culture and ecotourism, are also needed for Malaysia to penetrate the US market.
The United States is huge, but Tourism Malaysia has only one full-fledged office – in Los Angeles, he added.
“My opinion is that Malaysia would be able to penetrate the US market well if more attention and focus is given.
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“Lots of other national tourist organisations are paying attention to the United States – Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates each have two or three offices and representatives,” he said.
Malaysia Tourist Guides Council (MTGC) president Jimmy Leong Wie Kong said Malaysia is in need of a better “formula” to attract tourists and regain its spot as one of the top tourist attractions in Asean.
“If we look at the 10 South-East Asian countries, our popularity as a tourist destination over the last five years has dropped to fourth.
“We are in this situation now because other countries are following what we have been doing and becoming very successful in attracting tourists,” he said.
Leong said the government, tour operators and even the public have a role to play to ensure that tourists enjoy the experiences they were promised and have their expectations fulfilled.
“What encourages tourists to visit or revisit a destination is the experience.
“The government introduced the ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ campaign and has organised promotional activities, but these will not be effective if tour operators do not sell packages that suit this campaign.
“And even if they do, we have to also make sure that when the tourists arrive here, they will achieve the experience in terms of infrastructure and quality of our services promised to them,” he added.
Leong said the “true Malaysian experience” can be best delivered by licensed tourist guides who have been trained to host these visitors.
“We should also tap into our rich heritage and focus on small tourist groups, which is a fast-growing trend, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Currently, tourists travel in smaller numbers, so we have to customise our packages to let them experience the best of our country.
“Other than that, we can also promote our rich history – for example Melaka, which is popular for its history from the Portuguese and Dutch era. This is among the things that can link us with tourists.
“We also have our royal families and their historic backgrounds, which we don’t really highlight. So, I think every state should look carefully at their rich heritage that can be capitalised,” he added.