Arriving in Dubai after a long flight from Shanghai, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen brushed aside fatigue and hit the ground running at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2010. She and her entourage landed in the emirate in the early hours of Tuesday, but appeared to be her cheerful self as she headed for the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC) to open the Malaysia Pavilion, barely a few hours later.
Wearing an eye-catching red modern kebaya and selendang, the minister struck a gong to mark the occasion, toured the Melaka house-inspired two-storey structure, shook hands with Malaysian delegates and posed for the cameras with members of the Istana Budaya cultural troupe specially brought in for the travel fair. And then she got down to the business of wooing more Arab tourists to Malaysia, a melting pot of cultures of over 27 million people in the heart of Southeast Asia.
This is Malaysia's 17th year of participation at the ATM, billed as the largest travel and tourism fair in the Middle East, with more than 2,200 exhibitors from all over the world attending the 2010 edition. Many of the tourism ministers and VVIPs who graced the opening ceremony had gone home but Dr Ng is in Dubai until the end of the travel fair on Friday.
"I'm focusing on the Middle East because we're so strong here. We can't afford to lose our lead. I want to keep the momentum going so that Malaysia will always be seen as the lead player in this market," the minister explained.
Despite 2009 being a challenging year for the tourism industry, Malaysia managed to attract 284,890 visitors from this region with a growth of 7.8 per cent over 2008, at 264,338. The target for 2010 is 300,000.
Dr Ng observed that many Arab countries were also now starting to focus on the tourism industry to value add their economy. "They're not just focusing on oil and gas now. In promoting tourism, they're developing their deserts, putting money into infrastructure with an eye towards economic returns," the minister remarked.
Observers said Malaysia's neighbours in Southeast Asia as well countries in other parts of the world were also trying to drum up more travellers from the Middle East.
But Dr Ng is taking all these developments in her stride as she takes every opportunity in Dubai to drive home the point that Malaysia has a lot to offer as a tourist destination. And news that Malaysia had entered the top-10 list of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in terms of tourist arrivals for 2009 could not have come at a more opportune time.
At various sessions with the Press as well as meetings with top tour operators and airline bosses at ATM 2010, she highlighted Malaysia's tourism products.
Key segments being promoted in the Middle East market include leisure holidays such as beaches and islands, shopping, dining and eco-tourism. Special interest promotions are education tourism, medical and health tourism, honeymoon, spa and the Malaysia My Second Home programme.
Tourism Malaysia, she said, was also keen on luring Arab visitors to spend Ramadan in Malaysia where the fasting month was observed by Muslims and equally enjoyed by non-Muslim Malaysians.
In her presentations, Dr Ng pointed out that Malaysia enjoyed political stability and was a safe country to visit. Communication was a breeze in Malaysia, she said, as most Malaysians could speak English and many could even speak Arabic.
Dr Ng's friendly manner and charm were her arsenal in dealing with Middle Easterners. She broke the ice at a meeting with an Arab airline boss by telling him that she was getting better treatment here than anywhere else, contrary to her initial doubts over a woman leading a delegation to a "conservative area".
At an event Wednesday to launch holiday packages offered by Firefly Holiday, the minister decided to do away with the rostrum and chose to address the assembled members of the media nearer to them.
The intended objective of her presence in Dubai may well be to spearhead Malaysia's tourism drive, but it appears that it also serves as a study tour for Dr Ng who is visiting the city for the first time in her capacity as tourism minister. During a dinner cruise on a traditional dhow along the Dubai creek one evening, Dr Ng took in the sights of Dubai, the city skyline dominated by the glittering Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
"You see how lighting is very important in accentuating the beauty of a building," she said, referring to the well-lit exterior of buildings lining both sides of the waterway. Our local authorities should think of all this," she said, noting that Dubai had managed to blend both the traditional and the modern in moulding itself as an international tourist spot.
The minister described the cultural performance on board the ship, an Egyptian swirling dance executed by two male dancers, as "fantastic". "This is the kind of performance that tourists appreciate," she said.
Dr Ng is leading a 120-member Malaysian delegation to the ATM, representing 54 hotels, 22 travel and tour operators, five state governments and Malaysia Airlines. Her support team at the ATM includes Tourism Malaysia's deputy director-general for planning Azizan Noordin and the agency's Dubai director Tuan Razali Tuan Omar. She will also lead Malaysia's post-ATM 2010 sales mission and road show to Kuwait and Qatar from May 8 to 12 aimed at further promoting Malaysia as a tourist destination.
Source : Bernama
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