Saturday, June 23, 2007

People factor remains key to tourism sector

AT last year’s International Monetary Fund financial conference in Singapore, a senior editor of a Nigerian daily admitted he did not know where Malaysia was, but remarked he knew the tune of the popular Cuti-cuti Malaysia jingle.

He asked for recommendations on local attractions in Malaysia, pleasantly surprised that he would only have to make a short trip across the causeway to enjoy these sights.

The catchy jingle is part of the Tourism Ministry’s television ad that was broadcast on international stations, including CNN, and had helped promote the country even before the launch of Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2007 campaign.

The timing of VMY appears to be spot-on as recent data from the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) shows high growth for the Asia-Pacific region.

Last year, WTO recorded a 33% rise in international tourists, or some 12 million, travelling to this region, the second most frequented region after Europe.

So far, the VMY campaign looks on track to meet its targets, with 8.9 million tourist arrivals recorded up to May. Should the trend persist, the targeted 20 million tourist arrivals by end-2007 will be easily achieved.

This positive trend is also reflected in the data from the Malaysian Association of Hotels where hotel occupancy rates for the first three months rose to 65% compared with 60% recorded in the same period last year.

Passenger traffic for air travel and land also rose, reflecting an increased movement of travellers.

More importantly, tourism receipts are expected to surge to a target RM40.5bil by year-end. Last year, receipts were RM36.3bil, up 13.5% from the year before.

Tourist receipts play an important role in the performance of the retail and hospitality sub-sectors of the service industry, which is vital for the country as it moves towards becoming a service-oriented economy.

Based on Malaysia's gross domestic product statistics from January to March this year, healthy growth was recorded, a trend expected for the rest of the year, say experts.

A 9.1% growth was registered in the retail sub-sector and 8.1% in the accommodation and restaurants sub-sector, up from 7.1% and 6.0% respectively in the same period last year.

But then again, it may be too early to call VMY a success, as high tourist arrivals do not necessarily translate into increased spending.

However, industry players are hopeful that the high influx of travellers will bolster their bottomline.

Players lure travellers in with not only attractive tour packages and sightseeing spots, but also through low lodging rates. In March, media reports said Malaysia's rates are 75% lower than in Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

But is that the only factor bringing in the tourist dollars?

Some players insist so as tourist receipts are the deciding factor on whether industry players will have the returns to reinvest in their businesses in lieu of attracting more tourists.

Consider this also: Will businesses be able to offer attractive salaries to retain talent as competition heats up in Malaysia and the region?

Take a look at Resorts World’s RM11.7bil (S$5.2bil) integrated resort in Sentosa Island. The resort is likely to draw not only the tourists down south, but also talented and skilled hospitality personnel, the key ingredient for success in this industry.

In other words, low hotel rates, airfares and travel packages can’t be seen as the only factors to pull in the business.

Like in any industry, trained professionals or “the people factor” should play its role to offer quality service, be it in the form of a friendly greeting or a helping hand where needed.

A country as resource-rich as Malaysia can surely bring together all players to offer quality service and personnel to ensure not only the success of VMY but that Malaysia remains one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Source : STAR
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