Monday, April 23, 2007

Mission finds how best to sell Malaysia

With Visit Malaysia 2007 entering its second quarter, Malaysia joins the rest of the world to woo tourists at the world travel mart held at the Internationale Tourisme Bourse (ITB) in Berlin last month.

The world's largest annual travel mart saw the gathering of tourism players from 180 countries where participants at the week-long event went all out to promote their respective tourist destinations.

The stakes are high: about 800 million tourists are expected to travel across the globe this year and about half of them are from Europe.

Malaysia hopes to net at least 20.1 million tourists who will bring in RM44.5bil this year.

Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai, who led a 150-member delegation to the travel mart was amazed by the aggressiveness displayed by the tourism players worldwide.

Lim, who visited many booths to exchange information and views on the industry, said: “Malaysia is not only facing fierce competition from the more established tourist destinations like Thailand but also emerging players such as Laos and Cambodia.”

Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai (2nd from left) and Tourism Ministry deputy directorgeneral Datin Dalilah Ahmad posing with foreign participants at the tourism fair
The delegation went to Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm for another five days to hold talks with travel agents and the media on how best to sell Malaysia.

“The feedback is very encouraging but there is also much room for improvement,” said Lim, adding that he would meet up with the parties concerned on how best to address the issues highlighted to him.

Topping the grouses were transportation issues ranging from lack of flights to delays in putting up quotations for airfares, he said.

He said it was encouraging to know that Malaysia was neither unknown to the world nor lacking in attractive tourist spots.

“Our other attractive points include political stability, year-round multi-ethnic cultural celebrations, friendly people, many of whom speak English and a favourable exchange rate,” he added.

But discerning travellers and stiff competition from neighbouring countries, in particular, are a cause for concern for Malaysia.

For instance, some 400,000 Germans thronged Thailand - Asean's top tourist destination - last year, against the 66,000 to Malaysia.

The more frequent and direct flight connections between Thailand and European countries and cheaper fares were listed as important selling points by European tour agents.

Thai holidays are often been billed as great entertainment, with cheaper beverage especially beer, good food, bargain shopping and beautiful beaches.

Torsten Schonweiss , a driver and tour guide at a travel agency in Berlin, said he holidayed in Thailand at least twice a year.

He said there were many holiday choices for travellers to Thailand to meet their needs and means.

“I used to like Phuket but not anymore. It is over-developed and too crowded,” he said.

While eco-tourism and golfing remained top attractions for European tourists to Malaysia, travel agents said there was more to just the “sun, beautiful beaches and golf courses”.

In Stockholm, Lars Noren, a production manager at ABC Tours, said Swedish tourists loved the sun and as such, big apartment balconies was a plus point as it would allow these tourists to bask in the sun.

However, he noted that many of the apartment balconies in Malaysia often doubled up as a place for the air-conditioner compressors.

He said about 600,000 active golfers from Sweden spent between one and three months playing golf outside the country to escape the harsh winter.

This was a long holiday stay, he said, adding that the holiday apartments must be well equipped even though it might be a one-room unit. The Finns are no different.

“I just can't sell anything without a balcony,” said Tuomas Mantysaari, the managing director of a tour company in Helsinki.

Finns would love to have their honeymoon during summer and Malaysia would be a great place, he said, pointing out that tour packages must be up for sale some six to 11 months before departure.

The delay in getting quotation on rates for airfares, for instance, was one of the stumbling blocks when selling tour packages to Malaysia, he added.

Kazuhito Hirai from Go To Asia, in Oslo said Malaysia was unique in its own way and thus should not be compared with neighbouring countries. He cited eco-tourism and golfing as prime attractions.

Source : STAR
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