KLIA in need of major facelift (Poll Inside)

Crowded: A typical view of the inside of KLIA, with long lines at check-in and immigration an inconvenience for travellers both foreign and local. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: From long immigration lines and luggage waiting times to the now out-of-commission aerotrains, players in tourism and hospitality say KLIA needs a serious revamp to attract more tourists.

While KLIA has served Malaysia well since it opened almost 25 years ago, stakeholders feel it has lagged behind rivals such as Singapore Changi Airport, said Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

Common complaints from tourists were of the long immigration lines, the state of the toilets and amenities, transportation between the KLIA main terminal building and the satellite building, as well as the waiting and sitting areas, added Tan.

“Changi already has four world-class terminals and is working on its fifth. We have no plan at all, and our KLIA is already more than two decades old.

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“An airport is always the face and the first impression of a country. If the services such as immigration and the aerotrains are not warm and welcoming, it reflects badly on its people.

“In the long run, it will affect tourism because travellers will choose airports that have better connectivity and transit facilities,” he added.

Tan said that immediate rectification, or rather, a new satellite or main terminal building, should be the main order of business.

Once this is done, the current main terminal and satellite buildings should be renovated and redesigned to meet current and future requirements, he noted.

“Infrastructure, accessibility and convenience of travellers must be the top priorities,” he said, adding that the Putrajaya MRT line should also be extended to KLIA.

“These are the basics if we want to be near or on par with Bangkok, Singapore, London and any other major airports in the world,” said Tan.

Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis said KLIA needs to be spruced up in terms of the facilities and services offered.

“All the other countries are competing for tourists, so they have been sprucing up their services.

“For example, Changi Airport does really well; they make it very comfortable for visitors and they have all kinds of facilities there such as the airport slides and children’s entertainment,” he said.

He added that there was also a lack of information about the aerotrain services at KLIA being suspended and that passengers must now transfer to the bus lounge to transfer between the main terminal building and the satellite building.

“Clear information must be given to passengers rather than them looking around for it. These are the little things that are very important to make a good impression on tourists,” he said.

Uzaidi added that immigration services at the airports should also be improved.

“In Bangkok and Singapore, the lines are also long, but the clearance is super fast.

“I’m sure the Immigration Department wants to protect our country and I’m not sure if there are any challenges to achieving shorter waiting times, but it’s very important,” he said.

Uzaidi also suggested that Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) hold cultural events and shows at the airports to attract transiting passengers.

He added that the airports have, however, done well in terms of the cleanliness of the toilets and surau.

Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association (MCTA) president Paul Paw said while KLIA could have been considered world-class when it first opened, this is no longer the case now as the poor maintenance culture leaves much to be desired.

He said the suspension of the aerotrain is not only an inconvenience to travellers but the long immigration lines and baggage waiting times have also left them suffering.

“The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry talks about welcoming tourists but our airports have lots of problems; international visitors are made to wait for hours and hours.

“This atmosphere is not good at all,” said Paw.

He added that the move by the Home Ministry to open up autogate facilities at KLIA for travellers from 10 countries, including Australia, Brunei and Singapore, was a good idea and that it should be extended to cover more nationalities while the luggage waiting time must also be improved.

According to the MAHB website, the performance standard for baggage to arrive was within 40 minutes throughout February.

Malaysian Association of Hotels president Datin Christina Toh has urged MAHB to set up a crisis management team.

“For the short term, MAHB needs to come up with action plans to guide and inform the passengers on the ground until other long-term solutions take place.

“To minimise confusion and hassle among passengers on the ground, there must be sufficient signs and guides after they have arrived in Malaysia.

“This will make it easier for passengers to know where to go; for example, where to take the coaches,” she added.With entry points such as airports being the first impression of Malaysia among tourists, Toh said in the case of a manpower shortage, the use of technology such as messages generated by artificial intelligence should come in handy.

“Their website should also be frequently updated with the latest information, including flights and the availability of transport vehicles, so that people can always Google it,” she said.

She also called on immigration officers to be more friendly to foreigners, regardless of where they are from.

Toh noted that prolonged issues at the airports will make Malaysia lose its advantage, especially when 2025 has been earmarked as Visit Malaysia Year.

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