Thursday, October 30, 2008

Number of Egyptian tourists rise by almost 50%

The number of Egyptian tourists visiting Malaysia has increased by more than 48% for the first nine months of this year, said Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

“From January to September, we received 8,550 Egptian tourists compared with 5,163 tourists for the same period last year,” she said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Azalina, who is on a sales mission to Egypt, said 7,603 Egyptians visited Malaysia last year compared with 5,682 in 2006.

Egypt was a “high potential” tourism market and its tourists were big spenders as they stayed an average of 9.2 days and spent about RM7,000 each, she said.

Malaysia had a lot to offer Egyptian tourists including value-for-money destinations, culture diversity, comfort, security and an Islamic environment, she said.

“Malaysia is a vacation for families. It is even safe to bring all four wives,” she quipped.

Azalina said political stability was most important for Malaysia next to ensuring a high level of service.

“Tourism is about uniting people. We want Middle Eastern tourists to feel at home here,” she said, adding that availability of local Arabic cuisine and culture was another plus point.

Niche markets such as wellness and medical tourism, eco-tourism and education were also crowd-pullers with 341,288 medical tourists last year.

“Tourists can come on their own for medical treatment without going through travel agents,” she added.

She said a joint consultative agreement held early this year between the foreign ministers of both countries had helped boost the number of Egyptian arrivals.

Source : STAR
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South-East Asian air services to be further liberalised

Air services between capital cities in South-East Asia will be further liberalised by the end of the year.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said his counterparts from Asean nations would meet early next month in Manila to ratify the Asean road map.

He said with the liberalisation, the frequency of flights and the number of airlines flying to and from a destination would no longer be limited by the governments.

“By 2015, this will be further extended to other cities. The final agreement will be made at the Asean Transport Ministers meeting in Manila,” he said.

Ong said besides the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur sector, they had opened up the sector between Singapore and Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Miri.

He was speaking to reporters Sunday after welcoming passengers on Silk Air’s maiden flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Silk Air, which is Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) sister company, will fly twice daily to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore from Sunday, while SIA flies five times daily. From Dec 1, both SIA and Silk Air will operate four flights daily each on that route.

Silk Air CEO Chin Yau Seng said, coupled with MAS, passengers would have a choice of 15 flights daily from the three airlines.

Malaysia Airports managing director Datuk Seri Bashir Ahmad said with Silk Air operating from KLIA, he expected air traffic to grow further.

“When we opened up the route (Singapore-KL) to Jetstar, Tiger Airways and AirAsia, in the first seven months of this year, traffic grew by 9%,” he said.

Source : STAR
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AirAsia finally makes it to India

AirAsia has finally conquered its “last frontier” with the Indian government giving the low-cost carrier approval to fly to India.

AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said the airline would start selling tickets to Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu at midnight tomorrow, with the first flight to take off at 7.40am on Dec 1.

“It will be a daily flight and we are looking at even adding a second flight now as the initial response has been tremendous,” he told reporters at a press conference here yesterday.

Special promotional prices for the flight will cost RM49 one way while the normal ticket price will cost about RM200 one way.

Fernandes said plans were now in the works for the next one-and-a-half years for AirAsia to fly to many more destinations in India including Chennai, Madurai and Kochi.

It is learnt that these destinations, plus Tiruchi, are the places where many Malaysian Indians can trace their roots and travel to for family visits.

“AirAsia X, meanwhile, will fly to places like New Dehli, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Calcutta,” he added.

He said AirAsia would initially invest between RM5mil and RM7mil to set up infrastructure in India and was confident that they would do well.

“This is an exciting period for us. I’m looking at a load factor of at least 90% for our first flight,” he said.

Fernandes said it had taken the airline seven years to reach this stage and with its entry into India, his mission as CEO was complete.

“I had said then that India would be the last place we need to go to. It is now over to AirAsia X to grow the business to Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.”

Fernandes said he expected a huge growth in Indian tourists to Malaysia and that he was not worried about the global economic slowdown.

“I believe that you have to be innovative. While other airlines are cutting back, we are expanding and can take up the slack.

In response to recent Malaysia Airlines advertisements, Fernandes said his battle with MAS was over and that it was time to move on.

“We can compete fairly all the time. That is not a problem. It was only when they blocked us from getting what we wanted that I made noise.”

Source : STAR
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Tourism reps make a strong case for Sabah and Sarawak

Representatives of the Sarawak and Sabah tourism boards are making a strong pitch at the three-day ITB Asia show which opened on Wednesday.

This is the first time the organisers of the show, Messe Berlin, are staging the Asian edition of their international tourism show, ITB Berlin, here.

It attracted a good turnout of Malaysian travel and tour operators.

Sarawak Tourism Board marketing manager Mary Wan Mering, who had participated in the “mother show” in Berlin, said her participation here was to gain access to the Asian travel and tour operators.

“While the ITB Berlin provides us with another platform, this Singapore event affords us an opportunity to establish new business contacts with tour operators who have not done business with Sarawak.

“I received 28 buyers on the first day and all of them expressed an interest to come to Sarawak.

“The quality of trade buyers is also good because they come here with a strong business orientation,” she told Bernama at the Suntech Exhibition Centre where the show is being held.

Zulkifli Othman, resort manager of Kuching-based Daman Beach Resort, a property owned by the Sarawak government, aimed to get maximum exposure here.

“We have been visited by travel agents, tour operators, organisers of meetings and other events.

“There were 12 solid enquiries which could easily translate into business.

“In fact, we have already secured business from an adult education school in Singapore which was interested in outdoor and team-building activities in Sarawak,” he said.

Othman said his hotel’s business, which was derived mainly from Europe, was not affected by the depreciation of the US dollar.

“The recession and the financial crisis have also not affected our business because our contracts were signed sometime back,” he said.

Sabah Tourism Board marketing manager Noredah Othman said the event provided a good base to tap business.

“This show provides us with an opportunity to establish contacts with Asian buyers who come here,” she said.

She said the response had been good and she was “fairly satisfied” with the business enquiries.

Noredah said the Sabah tourism business was doing well despite the ongoing financial crisis.

“However, it is too early to pinpoint if and to what extent there has been any adverse impact on the tourism traffic. We will know in December,” she said.

She said Sabah hoped to tap the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions segment once the state’s convention centre was ready.

“The state’s investment arm has already made the preliminary planning of the 5,000-seat centre which will be located at the sea close to Kota Kinabalu.

“The project is expected to be completed in 2010,” she said. - BERNAMA

Source : STAR
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Firefly starts direct flights from Subang to Koh Samui

FLIGHT FY3608 landed safely at Koh Samui in Thailand on Oct 26, signifying a milestone for Malaysian low-cost carrier Firefly.

All the 71 passengers, anong whom were Malaysian media representatives, alighted from the ATR-72-500 twin turbo propeller aircraft at 10.35am local time to a rousing welcome by local officials, including the Firefly staff members, hotel operators, Thai Tourism Authority and provincial government representatives.

Touchdown: Flight FY3608 arriving at Koh Samui airport.

The two-hour flight was the airline’s first direct flight from Subang. The service is expected to boost the regional economy, in tandem with other regional destinations within Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand offered by the airlines.

Prior to the direct flight from Subang’s Terminal 3, the airline had been commuting four times a week to Koh Samui from Penang (Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Sundays).

The Firefly flights from Subang are also scheduled four times weekly. The airline’s head of communications and marketing, Angelina Fernandez, said more destinations had been picked within Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and services are scheduled to begin early next year.

She added that with the direct service from Subang to Koh Samui, more first-time travellers were expected to check out the destination.

Welcome: A Thai official garlanding a passenger who arrived at Koh Samui aboard Firefly’s inaugural flight from Subang

Fernandez said the airline also included a holiday package to the island that lies off the Kra Ithmus. Options range from air fares, starting from RM180 per person, to a three-day/two-night hotel stay and ticketing package for RM2,800.

She encouraged travellers to take advantage of the airline’s on-line promotions that cover low fare for a return trip as well as accommodation options.

For details on Firefly’s weekly direct flights to Koh Samui, log on to

Source : Star
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Market Turmoil Brings Dim Days for Luxury Hotels

Even as midprice hotels began losing business this past summer, luxury hotels continued to fill their rooms. Companies treated the hotels as perks for top executives and quality locations for high-level business meetings. And many leisure travelers considered a stay at a top hotel - even for a couple of days - to be worth the cost.

Times have changed.

Since mid-September, almost in parallel with the stock market turmoil, demand for high-end hotel rooms has plummeted. Patrick Ford, president of Lodging Econometrics, said that U.S. luxury hotel-room revenue rates "slowed in mid-September and really ratcheted downward during October."

Revenue per available room, the standard measure of performance, dropped 14 percent at upscale and luxury hotels in the week ending Oct. 18 over the comparable week last year, according to Smith Travel Research. For hotels in general, the decline was about 8 percent.

The trends were similar throughout the world. TRI Hospitality Consulting said September occupancy rates fell in all of the 10 European cities that it surveys. The damage at the top end was significant. In London, for example, average occupancy rates in five-star hotels fell more than 10 percentage points from a year earlier as a result of the financial turmoil, TRI said, with revenue per available room falling 17 percent.

Upscale to luxury hotels in the Asia-Pacific region reported a 9.6 percent decline in September occupancy rates from a year earlier, according to STR Global, while revenue per available room fell by 5.3 percent.

Even in the best of economic times, most luxury hotels were not sustained by business from rich leisure travelers. Instead, those hotels depended on corporate travel, including meetings and conferences.

But with the economic downturn, companies have been cutting back on travel expenses. The hotels have also experienced a drop-off in business from affluent international leisure and business travelers, as economies around the globe slow and the value of the dollar rises.

At the same time, travelers have become more defensive about conspicuous consumption.

Public indignation over big paydays and the lavish expenses of top executives has also hurt the luxury hotel business. Companies are now concerned about perceptions - worried about how it looks to others when employees stay in hotels whose very names evoke images of opulence. In part because of those concerns, there has been a sudden rash of cancellations of corporate meetings.

In this unsettled climate, some financial services and other companies have quietly advised employees against using luxury hotels.

"Don't stay in Four Seasons, Ritz-Carltons, Mandarin Orientals," said Bjorn Hanson, an associate professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

"It's a budgetary issue," he said, "but a more fundamental issue is, how does it look if you're laying off 10 percent of your work force and you have people staying at $500-a-night or $1,000-a-night hotels?"

In interviews and in public remarks, several luxury hotel managers conceded that business was temporarily shaky and cancellation rates soaring. But they were loath to discuss the downturn on the record.

Largely because of what Hanson called the "widespread creation of wealth," the number of U.S. domestic hotel rooms in the luxury segment almost doubled, to more than 80,000, in the past 10 years, according to Smith Travel Research.

At the same time, luxury hotel companies were also planting flags in every major city in the world.

Managers at luxury hotels point out that their corporate clients typically are lured less by lavish surroundings than by the impeccable customer service that distinguishes a top-tier hotel. Ritz-Carlton, for example, often cites its "empowered" work force, in which even desk clerks are authorized to unilaterally make decisions involving as much as $2,000 to address a customer problem.

The decline in demand has put pressure on the relationship between the companies that manage the luxury hotels and the developers and hotel real estate investment companies that own the properties and, therefore, bear most of the debt and operating costs. The brands include Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Le Meridien, Mandarin Oriental, Fairmont and others.

It is axiomatic among top-tier hotels - as it is among top-tier department stores and jewelry sellers - that price discounting is detrimental to brand prestige. Holding sales in uncertain times means less ability to raise prices back to normal levels when good times return, hotel managers insist.

But many owners, feeling the pinch from credit and mortgage debt, want more revenue now and are pushing for aggressive discounting. In past downturns, the luxury hotel companies - whose books are generally free of huge debt (since they did not build the property or buy the real estate) - have managed to resist owners' pleas for overt discounting.

What does all of this mean for the traveler - or at least the business or leisure traveler who is still able to stay at a top-tier hotel? Better bargaining power, hotel insiders say.

"In the past, when we would approach a five-star hotel, they wouldn't be interested in discounting because that's going against their brand," said Noah Tratt, vice president for supplier strategy at Egencia, the corporate travel management company of Expedia.

That intransigence is weakening in many markets where "they are very willing to negotiate in the corporate channels on a private price that essentially doesn't undermine their published rates," he said.

Source : IHT
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Minimal decrease in Malaysia’s September tourist arrivals

Tourist arrivals to Malaysia totalled almost 1.6 million in September, a 0.1 percent decrease over the same figure in September last year.

Cumulatively, tourist arrivals recorded from January to September this year total 16,329,855, representing an increase of over four percent, year-on-year.

Singapore maintained its position as the largest tourist generating market for Malaysia last month, followed by Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, China (including Hong Kong & Macau), Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

Source : TravelWeekly
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Singapore’s tourism arrivals still down in September

Visitor arrivals to Singapore in September reached 739,000, registering a decline of a little over four percent, year-on-year. However, visitor days were estimated at 3.2 million days, an increase of over six percent, compared to September last year.

Indonesia, Australia, P R China, India and Japan were Singapore’s top five visitor-generating markets last month, accounting for 52 percent of total visitor arrivals.

The Singapore Tourism Board said that the decline in visitor arrivals in the recent months reflects the challenging global economic environment and outlook for the tourism sector, which may continue into 2009. With the current global economic climate, there is now a general air of uncertainty, which has impacted consumer sentiments and discretionary spending.

Singapore’s visitor arrivals and tourism receipts are expected to fall short of the 2008 targets.

Source : TravelWeekly
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Zoom! Malaysia - A new boost for tourism

TOURISM Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said launched the Zoom! Malaysia tourism campaign recently. The campaign will run for six months from October to March next year.

The advertisements will placed on public transport like the airport limousines, RapidKL and Trans­national buses, LRT (Ampang and Kelana Jaya Line) as well as the KL Monorail.

Nice: Azalina looking at an advertisment on a train.

“We have implemented the body-wrapping technique on the public transport because public transport is popular among both the locals and tourists,” said Azalina.

She also said the campaign was part of their method to reach out and expose people to the products, activities and the various destinations Malaysia had to offer.

“We are aggressively campaigning to increase the number of tourists to Malaysia.

Last year, in August, 1,642,899 tourists visited Malaysia while in the same month this year there has been an increase of 12% with 1,839,235 tourists.

The total for last year was 20.9 million tourists.

Azalina added that this was also one way to foster ties between the public and private sectors.

“This is an opportunity to help businesses to benefit from this tourism campaign as well.”

Azalina took a tour from the PWTC LRT station to the Bandaraya station on the LRT and took a bus from Bandaraya back to PWTC during its launch last Monday.

The campaign will begin in Kuala Lumpur first and later be implemented in Sabah and Sarawak as well.

A total of 50 airport limousines each in both Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, and Kuching, Sarawak, 100 intra-city buses in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya and 100 inter-city buses in 10 states Peninsular Malaysia will feature exotic places in Malaysia.

Source : STAR
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Airlines cut fuel surcharges

Carriers hope to boost passenger numbers

AIRLINES have begun to cut their fuel surcharge on passengers as crude oil prices dip to their lowest in almost a year in hopes of boosting passenger numbers as the industry fights the effects of the global financial crisis.

Australia’s Qantas announced on Wednesday it would reduce fuel surcharges on its international fares starting Thursday, while Europe’s Air France-KLM Group had announced a similar move on Tuesday effective Wednesday.

A spokesperson from Malaysian Airline System Bhd said the national airline had already lowered its surcharge for “certain customer sectors”.

Cargo subsidiary MASkargo has lowered its fuel surcharge rates to RM3.61 per kg effective Sept 29 from RM3.80 per kg previously for cargo uplift from Malaysia to International Air Transportation Association (IATA) Area 1 — South, Central and North and IATA Area 2 — America, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

An analyst with a local bank-backed brokerage told StarBiz: “With sharply declining crude oil price, there is the benefit of a falling cost base but the financial crisis is creating many challenges to the industry as well.”

MAS and AirAsia aircraft at the KL International Airport. The airlines are cutting their fuel surcharges to lower the cost of flying. - AFP

He cites the fact that airlines globally were facing difficulty in securing loans to finance the delivery of new aircraft scheduled for the next two to six months.

At the same time, as many airlines globally were going bust, borrowing costs were going up as banks become more wary of lending to companies in the sector.

This was made even worse with bank collapses in Western countries, prompting financial institutions globally to adopt more stringent “risk management, which includes raising interest rates,” he said.

The financial crisis was also causing problems for airlines seeking to hedge fuel costs, with instability in the banking sector making it harder for airlines to find a reliable source of hedging tools.

However, OSK Investment Bank acting head of research Chris Eng said: “Many airlines have hedged their fuel costs when prices were at record highs, so it really doesn’t matter now if the counter-party bank can’t meet its commitments.”

Airlines would not be exercising their hedging contracts to buy fuel at the record prices when they can purchase at current lower rates.

Looking for hedging contracts to lock-in the current lower price of fuel, however, would be harder.

The first analyst said that global challenges” could be a factor keeping some airlines from lowering their fuel surcharge.

He believed that the global credit crisis was affecting AirAsia Bhd more than MAS, given that AirAsia was more heavily leveraged due to aggressive expansion of its fleet being a newer airline while MAS was only replacing its fleet.

AirAsia could be seeing higher financing costs almost immediately, he said, adding: “AirAsia’s loans are (denominated) in US dollars and the dollar is shooting up.”

Airlines also have been quick to cut their fuel surcharge, therefore, lowering the cost of flying to the benefit of passengers.

A spokesman for Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia told StarBiz: “We are currently reviewing the fuel surcharge and would announce a decision soon. Generally, lower fuel price means lower costs for us operationally and its contributes to the bottomline positively.

“We are unable to disclose this information but AirAsia charges the lowest fuel surcharge among local airlines.”

Jet fuel is typically priced at US$25 to US$35 above the crude oil price with the latest IATA quote on Oct 3 at US$140.4 per barrel.

Source : STAR
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Low-cost carriers still see strong demand

The global financial crisis may be depressing demand for air travel but low cost carriers say they have yet to see a slowdown in forward bookings.

“Forward bookings are still strong and up to today we have not seen any drop in daily sales,” long haul low cost carrier AirAsia X chief executive Azran Osman Rani told StarBiz.

Azran said AirAsia X was in fact, expanding and would begin launching flights to London by March and selling the tickets by November this year.

Sister airline AirAsia Bhd is also doing well with its bookings.

Azran Osman Rani

AirAsia regional head of commercial Kathleen Tan said forward bookings were very healthy.

She said as companies cut back on their travel budgets, the next best alternative was low cost travel and AirAsia would benefit as it had the capacity to serve more people.

Singapore’s budget carrier Tiger Airways spokesman Matthew Hobbs reportedly said the airline’s bookings were up.

“Forward bookings show that people are still booking and they are still travelling but they are looking for the best price,” Hobbs said.

Even Europe’s biggest low cost carriers - EasyJet and Ryanair - say they will benefit from the economic storm.

“We’re clearly winning market share from our competitors,” said EasyJet’s chief executive Andy Harrison. “In a world where all you can see in the papers today is about the credit crunch and cutbacks, you can see that EasyJet is doing incredibly well.”

Ryanair said last week passenger numbers rose 20% in September while British Airways reported carrying 5.6% fewer travellers in the same month.

Global premium carriers have reported a slowdown in passenger traffic especially for their first and business classes and predicted difficult times ahead.

But Malaysia Airlines senior GM network and revenue management Datuk Bernard Francis said the carrier’s forward bookings were still steady and at encouraging levels.

He said the airline would promote low fares online and it regularly reviewed its fares versus its full service competitors to maintain fares at levels attractive to the customers.

Fare was only one component of its product, he said.

What mattered more was the total offering, which included seamless connectivity and interlining, travel with code share partners, more baggage weight allowance, frequent flyer programs and airport lounges to influence the customer to fly with them.

Cathay Pacific recently said it was hard hit by the crisis and registered a significant drop in the number of first and business class travellers.

British Airways has warned of a drop in passenger demand for its most lucrative sector, the premium class market, and even Emirates, a premier carrier, has witnessed weaker demand.

So far 28 airlines have gone bankrupt, and more are expected to fail.

Demand for premium travel is expected to continue to fall as companies hurt by the credit crisis trim travel budgets.

Crude oil prices have fallen by 47% since its July 11 peak of US$147.27but air travellers have yet to see a correlating drop in air fares from the premium carriers.

The only respite is a drop in fuel surcharge by some airlines.

Premium carriers have cut routes and frequencies but they would onlycut fares if they were desperate for business, an analyst said.

Source : STAR
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200 more weekly flights since early this year

Malaysia Air­ports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) has had about 200 additional weekly flights since early this year.

The flights are from 12 airlines with more than 55 routes.

In a statement yesterday, MAHB said it was a significant achievement given the current economic climate and the impact high oil prices was having on the world’s airlines. Seven more destinations were expected to start before the year’s end, it said.

AirAsia X will continue its network expansion from Kuala Lumpur to Australia with services to Mel­bourne and Perth in November and to Hangzhou, while AirAsia will fly to Tiruchirapally.

Air Niugini, a new carrier to Kuala Lum­pur, plans to start new services to Papua New Guinea, the statement said. Tiger Airways and AirAsia have already announced considerable frequency increases.

At the KL International Airport, Malaysia Airlines has started flying to Karachi and Yogyakarta while AirAsia has launched flights to Guangzhou, Yogyakarta, Singapore, Ho Chih Minh City, Hong Kong, Haikou, Guilin, Batam and Pekanbaru.

Source : STAR
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AirAsia and Firefly eyeing LCCT in Batang Padang

Budget carriers AirAsia and Firefly are courting the Perak government to operate a low-cost carrier terminal at the Batang Padang district.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mo­­hammad Nizar Jamaluddin said discussion on the airport offering international flights started in May and to date two meetings on the matter had been held.

The state’s commitment is only to provide between 1,212ha and 1,616ha of land while the operator would foot the development cost of the airport, he said yesterday. The new airport would also handle cargo flights.

Speaking to reporters after receiving a courtesy call from Japanese ambassador Masahiko Yoire at his office, Nizar said that the plan, however, still hinged on clearance from the Transport Ministry and Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd (MAHB).

The state, said Nizar, needed an international airport to attract foreign investors.

Nizar also added that the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport here would be used only to service local flights if the Batang Padang airport project took off.

On the courtesy call, Nizar said that the ambassador had expressed Japan’s confidence in the Pakatan Rakyat-led states.

He had received positive feedback from Perak-based Japanese companies of which two of them would expand their operations here.

The ambassador, said that Nizar, also discussed plans to package Perak’s tourism products to attract Japanese tourists.

They also discussed student exchange programmes between Fukuoka University and universities in Perak.

Source : STAR
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