Hosting a luncheon for the Swedish tourism players at a hotel here Monday, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen caught the guests' interest with one word - homestay.
The tour operators, media and major airline officials came away impressed with her one-hour "Malaysia Truly Asia" presentation that began with a video showing idyllic scenes and the simplicity of village life away from the hustle and bustle of big cities.
Many of them also agreed to promote in Sweden the Malaysian homestay experience as a niche product.
"I am impressed with the informative presentation. She (Dr Ng) is very hands-on and it shows Malaysia is really serious in attracting Swedish tourists," Christina Chuck, general manager of Far East Travel Service, told Bernama.
Her agency would start to market Malaysian homestay packages, specially tailored for Swedes in the 17-35 age group from next year.
"We have been selling Malaysia for the past two years, but mostly for the high-end above 40 age group. But now, we are tapping into the younger market who seek adventure and a different educational and cultural experience," she said.
Chuck said on average, a Swedish tourist would spend two weeks in Malaysia and RM10,000.
"Swedes are affluent tourists, and they are knowledgeable about the things they want. They are willing to spend to have a cultural experience and quality service," she added.
Chuck, who last visited Malaysia in 2007, believes that Malaysia has the competitive edge over its neighbours as it has, among others, famed virgin rainforests, the Mulu National Park which is a Unesco-declared World Heritage Site, and the world-acclaimed diving haven in Sipadan.
She said awareness on environmental issues among people in the West was also a factor that could draw more Swedish tourists to Malaysia.
Gisle Dueland, marketing manager for Turkish Airlines based here, said the homestay programme could become one of Malaysia's main attractions.
A savvy traveller himself, Dueland felt that homestays provided real tourism as they offered visitors the real life experience and better understanding of a place.
He said Malaysia had good prospects as a relatively new and unexplored destination for Swedes.
"I think the fact that it is less known is also an advantage, as it still holds the charm and its uniqueness will capture the interest of Swedes to consider Malaysia as a whole new destination, rather than keep going to Thailand or Singapore," he added.
Turkish Airlines and Malaysia Airlines (MAS) entered into a code-sharing pact this year to ply the Stockholm-Istanbul-Kuala Lumpur sector.
Dueland was optimistic that with the promotiomal campaigns by Tourism Malaysia and its partners in Sweden, the air passenger load would grow.
Dr Ng said there were 146 villages in Tourism Malaysia's homestay programme.
"I always believe that whatever we do, tourism must also benefit the rural people economically, without jeopardising the environment and most importantly, the aesthetic value of the kampung lifestyle," she said.
The minister said she was also in talks with major international airlines to bring in more Swedish tourists to the country after MAS cancelled its direct service from Kuala Lumpur to Stockholm last month.
"We are looking at exploring the two-in-one packages with tour operators and airlines, where we make Malaysia as the second destination of the Swedish tourists via other cities that they visit such as Bangkok, Singapore or Dubai," she added.
Source : Bernama
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