The Malaysian community in France may have accomplished much in promoting the country’s image, but there is still a lot more to be done.
No doubt, the Malaysian embassy, Tourism Malaysia, as well as other government agencies and Malaysian organisations have all worked hard to enhance the country’s profile.
But in a highly competitive and crowded global market place, everyone must redouble their efforts and explore new ways to further boost Malaysia’s image abroad.
Expressing concern over the situation, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak spoke of the dangers of complacency during his official visit to France recently.
The Deputy Prime Minister did not mince words when he stressed on the importance of Malaysians acting as “mini ambassadors” during their studies or work in France.
“I hope I can count on everyone of you, through your connections, networking and contacts, to spread a good word about Malaysia. I’m not telling you to lie for Malaysia. I’m just telling you to give them the facts and positive stories about Malaysia,” he told more than 200 Malaysians during a tea reception in Paris recently.
Among those present were a number of Malaysian students, including some who had travelled from as far east as Strasbourg, Colmer and La Rochelle, about 600km away from Paris, just to meet the Deputy Prime Minister and his delegation.
Indeed, the deputy premier’s message underscored the importance of positive tales to help generate greater interest among the French to look seriously at Malaysia.
Najib took it upon himself to relate the success stories of French investors in Malaysia during his meetings with the French business community in conjunction with his week-long visit.
Time and again, the story of a French industrial household glove manufacturer’s lucrative investment, yielding an annual turnover in excess of 100 million euros (RM500mil), would crop up in his speeches.
So successful was the venture that the factory is planning to acquire another company to produce similar products. This is in addition to its present plant in the Kulim Hi-Tech Park.
Such tales would inspire potential investors to view Malaysia as a preferred location and destination for investment and economic activities.
Having said that, bilateral trade between the two countries has hit an upward trend over the past few years, expanding by 12.2% from US$3bil to US$3.3bil last year.
Though separated by distance, both nations are united in spirit and conviction, with Malaysia considering France an important and strategic partner.
But while economic activities is booming, tourism statistics are a cause for concern – despite the 36.6% rise in French visitors to Malaysia last year as against the previous year’s.
On paper, the steep increase looked impressive. A total of 32,562 French arrivals were recorded last year. But compared with the over 100,000 French tourists to neighbouring Thailand the same year, the figures seemed pathetic.
For some reason or other, Malaysia doesn’t appear to be drawing large numbers of French tourists despite having done so much.
Suffice to say, Malaysia must work even harder to attract tourists in the wake of intense competition and new tourism products from other countries. Thus, Najib’s push for daily flights between Paris and Kuala Lumpur would certainly augur well for the tourism industry.
Among the greatest attractions for French investors and tourists to Malaysia are its excellent flight connections, good infrastructure and a stable government.
Having obtained landing rights in Paris, it is imperative that MAS’ top priority should be to introduce daily flights as soon as possible.
With a load factor of about 76% on the KL-Paris sector for the last six months, there is every reason to go daily from the present five times weekly flights.
Of course, problems related to load capacity or aircraft shortage must be resolved – they must not become obstacles to higher flight frequencies.
For the record, the Malaysians have certainly played their part in promoting the country and its multi-racial culture to their French counterparts.
For instance, the Malaysian Association in France (MAF) was formed in 2002 with members drawn from Malaysians residing, working or studying in France.
It is heartening to note that the association organises regular get-togethers to celebrate various Malaysian festivities in co-operation with the embassy.
The MAF also holds games and other sports activities as well as take part in events to promote Malaysian culture and customs to the locals.
Indeed, the association even has its own website www.maf.online.fr on its events. It even produces a quarterly newsletter, Kampung Echo, which outlines its activities and news about Malaysia.
Apart from the MAF, the Perwakilian Malaysia – whose members comprise wives of the embassy’s home-based staff – is just as active in promoting the country’s image.
Though a small group, the body has successfully hosted Bazaar Malaysia and Bazaar Asean as well as worked together with MAF to organise Malaysian festivities such as Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Chinese New Year and Deepavali celebrations.
Together with the embassy, Tourism Malaysia, MAS and other groups, everyone must continue to play a greater role in promoting the national interest and the good name of Malaysia.
Choi Tuck Wo is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London (e-mail: email@example.com)