Sunday, February 22, 2009

CCTV Fire: Funny Photoshops By Chinese Netizens


"I'm not scared, the fire has not spread to the Big Underpants yet!"

Although last night’s fire at the CCTV building in Beijing destroyed the new Mandarin Oriental hotel, it also inspired many Chinese netizens to create a lot of funny Photoshops. Here are some of the more popular Photoshops from Mop and KDS that can also be seen on many other Chinese BBS discussion forums.



















Related News

Source : China Smack
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Pictures of the FIRE at CCTV Building


Around 9:00pm on February 9th, the CCTV building in Beijing caught on fire. Chinese netizens quickly reported the news on the internet, with many pictures and videos. Soon, netizens began wondering why there were no television news reports about the fire, and then many websites like Sina and NetEase began removing pictures or locking disussion topics about the CCTV fire.

Related News

Source : Freedom Crowsnest
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Branding Malaysia - Tourism Malaysia's Answer

With the world facing a crisis, the need to refocus on customer satisfaction and service quality has become even more imperative as countries strive to reinvent themselves and their market strategies to pitch their appeal to tourists.

The global tourism sector is hard hit by the financial crisis. How can Malaysia continue to woo tourists on the back of such gloom?

IN the coffee house of an internationally-managed hotel in Petaling Jaya, this journalist is interviewing a gentleman on his take on the outlook of the country’s tourism sector. Not once during the one- and-a-half hour long interview, are we approached by a waiter for a coffee refill or if we needed anything else.

Small thing, you say? Not necessarily. Getting the “service mentality” right is fundamental in creating the right image to boost the country’s tourism and hospitality industry, which economic importance cannot be overemphasised. And this – it makes a huge difference in determining whether a tourist’s stay is memorable or not.

With the world facing a crisis, the need to refocus on customer satisfaction and service quality has become even more imperative as countries strive to reinvent themselves and their market strategies to pitch their appeal to tourists.

The country has many strengths to draw from. In Asia, Malaysia is second only to China in terms of tourist arrivals.

The sector contributes some 7% or RM48bil to Malaysia’s gross domestic product; it’s significant but it also means there’s ample room for growth. Its melange of culture, food, friendly faces and beautiful beaches makes it a sweet tourist spot.

Last year was another good year for the sector. It registered 22.05 million tourists – a 5.1% increase over the previous year and exceeding its target of 21.5 million tourists as per the Ninth Malaysian Plan. The average per capita spending per tourist stands at RM2199.80.

Singapore tourists continue to make up the largest number of tourists in Malaysia, representing about half of total arrivals in Malaysia, followed by Indonesia (11%), Thailand (6.8%), Brunei (4.9%) and China (4.3%).

Hit by the crisis

The tourism sector worldwide is bracing itself for a tough time ahead on the back of the global economic crisis. Already, many popular tourist destinations have taken a serious knock as a result of the crisis due to cautious consumer spending.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasts that growth in international tourism this year will be flat at best or may contract by 2%.

Similarly, Malaysia’s Tourism Ministry, acknowledging the global contraction, has also lowered its 2009 tourist arrivals forecast by 10% to 20 million.

Some hard hit nations have begun to rethink their marketing strategy, looking instead outside of their traditional markets to boost the flagging tourist numbers.

Tourism has come a long way

From 5.5 million arrivals in 1998, tourist arrivals in Malaysia have more than quadrupled to 22 million in 2008.

Deriving income from the tourism sector isn’t something new for Malaysia. Some two decades ago, Malaysia was already being promoted as the mystique destination of Asia.

The first Visit Malaysia campaign was held in 1990 programme with a budget of RM100mil.

Back then, it was said to be one of the most expensive campaigns organised for the industry. Nonetheless it accomplished its mission, and boosted tourist arrivals by 53.6% to 7.445 million.

Tourism receipts also surged 60.5% to RM4.5bil.

Subsequently a Visit Malaysia 1994 was held. In the more recent Visit Malaysia 2007 campaign, the government budgeted some RM200mil, and again succeeded in increasing tourist arrivals by 20% to 20.97 million that year.

This was further supported by the opening of 31 new shopping malls that year. The average occupancy rate of hotels in the country in the last two years has improved to 70%, compared to 65.5% in 2006.

Investments wise, a total of 35 projects worth RM1.8bil was approved in the hotels and tourism sub-sector for the January to September 2008 period. This was an increase from RM1.3bil projects in the previous year.

But while these statistics appear rosy, with the world in recession mode currently, what else can Malaysia do to maintain its momentum?

Looking ahead

There is consensus that as the global crisis continues to unfold, it will take a toll on Malaysia’s tourism sector. As it stands, a bulk or some 70% of Malaysia’s tourists stem from Asia.

“Industry players have come to terms with it. I think the target of 20 million tourists is realistic. It is probably the long haul tourists that will be affected. So the focus is to attract tourists from the regional and domestic market,” says Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Ngiam Foong.

Still, he says that people will travel. The only difference being, those who had planned for long haul trips, may tweak their budget and opt for shorter trips to cut cost while travel frequencies will definitely decline.

On the flip side, he says domestic tourism may get a boost as a result of consumers cutting back on (long-haul) travel expenditures.

Should the Tourism Ministry cut its budget to pitch Malaysia’s appeal as a tourist spot?

“I don’t see us being so impacted. I see it as a watershed year. In times like these, the Ministry of Tourism should never reduce its budget. More than ever, they should sell the country,” says Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) vice-president Ivo Nekvapil.

For 2009, Nekvapil says there will be some revised budgets for hotels, but generally not more than 10%.

“Rates will not go down. Hotels are increasing them marginally, as we are still the lowest in the region. Even with an increase, we are value for money,” he says.

As of January 2009, Malaysian hotel’s average room return (ARR) stood at RM275, an increase from last year’s RM265. Presently, the average length of stay of a hotel guest is 3.8 days and the target is to raise this to 5.4 days.

Pitching its appeal

In mid 2008, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said kick started Project Zoom!, a domestic tourism campaign urging Malaysians to travel to local holiday destinations. It is hoped that the project will spark interest in lesser-known and new places of interests within the country.

Nekvapil feels that Zoom has so far been successful, adding that Branding Malaysia/Truly Asia – a campaign by the Malaysian Tourism Industry – has also been successful and should keep going.

“You cannot keep changing brand and taglines. You must keep them going if they are successful, and the present campaign is very successful. For instance, Singapore’s ‘Singapore Girlhas been going on more for than 30 years,” he says.

Much has been done to create awareness of Malaysia as a tourist destination, the government has done quite well.

He adds that Matta heavily supports the government through roadshows and trade missions.

“We do so much marketing and advertising. Throughout the year, we bring foreign journalists to write about Malaysia. Recently we followed the Ministry to Indonesia to encourage a dialogue of ‘one destination – 2 countries sort of package.”

“During our annual Matta fair, about 40% of our booths are reserved for Malaysia. So we’re also helping to sell Malaysia. On average, a Matta fair garners around 80,000 visitors,” he says.

“Malaysia has come a long way from what it used to be. Some people know Malaysia, some people don’t. That is only expected. But nowadays, people don’t really ask where Malaysia is anymore,” he says.

Moving forward, Nekvapil says there ought to be more emphasis on targeting the right markets if Malaysia wants to draw better quality tourists.

“We should target tourists from Europe, Australia and Japan. Or the Middle Easterners who come in normally from June to September,” he says, adding that this may not be that hard to do given Malaysia’s plus points – with value for money destinations, good products, services and hotels.

Yet, there is much more to do to woo tourists.

“We have to improve the image of our facilities, which is not always in good shape. Taxi and limo services need to improve as we have had many bad impressions created by some bad apples. We have to continually improve our service in hotels as we are sometimes far behind that of Thailand and Indonesia,” says Nekvapil.

Another important aspect is that there ought to be more coordinated and concerted promotional efforts among all the states in the country. “If we don’t (do that) we will lose out. Thailand is a very good example of excellent coordination. We must be aware of how good the other players are. We need to compare and better ourselves at all times,” he says.

Embracing tourists

Indeed, getting every single player and person in the country to embrace the tourism culture and feel as if each has a role to play in the sector is easier said than done.

In this respect, Ngiam says, there is much that needs to be done as presently there is the notion that the stakeholders of the tourism sector comprise mainly of the government and hotels.

“The stakeholders include the government, the airlines, hotels, tour agents, the attractions, the shopping and the people. The public is very important. They need to get involved. For example, when a tourist stops to ask for directions, we should be helpful,” he says.

Ngiam says that when a tourist goes shopping, he undergoes different ‘experiences’ that can subconsciously make him a repeat tourist.

“Wouldn’t it be nice, if the shop assistant served with a smile and with sincerity. Tell the tourist about the discount or special offers he is entitled to, if he were to purchase a certain amount,” says Ngiam.

He feels that it is up to Malaysians to deliver these positive ‘experiences’ to a tourist when they come to Malaysia.

Right from the moment they arrive, the immigration officer must smile, the taxi driver must be friendly and all the way up to the bell boy in the hotel.

These basic wow factors are easy and the most effective in courting tourists and the best – they require zero capital outlay.

Much also has to do with perception. Whilst in Thailand, a career in the service/hospitality industry is considered a serious professional pursuit, back home, Ngiam says, that has yet to take root perhaps due to the stigma of working in a hotel or bar.

The bar also needs to be raised on the quality of service.

“In Bangkok, if you were sitting in a coffee house, somebody will come every 20 minutes to serve you. Some even take the trouble to know your name. That’s quality,” he says.

Then of course, there is the issue of facilities. On this note, there has been a conscious effort by City Hall to provide cleaner toilets.

“People come back to a country because it is easier to move around. On an interstate level, Malaysia is alright. In Kuala Lumpur however, we need to improve our public transportation. We need a better bus hub. Puduraya for instance, just isn’t pleasant,” he says.

Ngiam highlights that the crime rates in Malaysia especially in Johor, will deter regional neighbours from coming.

“Certainly no country is crime free. And with Singapore being our neighbour, they read our news. What happens here, impacts them. So this is a perception issue we need to address,” he says.

“We have to go back to basics. What we need now is to encourage people to join the industry. We find it difficult to get people to work in the services sector,” says Ngiam.

On a more positive note, both Nekvapil and Ngiam feel that the business tourism portion is well handled.

“Our meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions business is still developing and there is tremendous potential here which I feel is very much untapped. We have to promote the country as a venue up to 10 to 15 years ahead for some conferences,” he says. (See side bar)

Cabbies – low hanging fruits

Taxi drivers are like a window to the country and will be among the first people to be encountered after Immigration officers and airport workers.

So imagine, after a comfortable flight and landing in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, how the tourist must feel to be greeted by a taxi of poor condition and a driver looking to make a quick buck.

The debate on rude and unethical taxi drivers have been going on for far too long. For a city such as Kuala Lumpur that welcomes close to 10 million visitors a year, it is surprising that appalling taxi service are still tolerated by the authorities.

The dilapidated state of many of the taxis are almost a norm. Being ripped off too, is close to being acceptable.

Last month, the government issued individual taxi licences to 1,419 cabbies in the Klang Valley and Seremban to help ease their burden of paying rental to taxi operators.

By issuing such licences, the drivers can now save between RM40 and RM55 daily from the rental they had to previously pay taxi companies.

With these licences issued, wouldn’t it be good to also issue a proper meter system for taxi drivers?

How many times have we heard of inflated cab fares for a short journey where the meters are not used?

“I feel that the taxi service is a low hanging fruit which the Government can do something easily, and the impact will be significant,” says Ngiam, adding that the structure too needs to be reformed.

“There are too many agencies involved in the handling of the taxi services,” he laments, such as the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, The Transport Ministry as well as Tourism Malaysia.

MM2H – a ‘gold mine’

Since its launch in 2002, the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme has attracted 12,566 foreigners up to end 2008.

Among these are British citizens, Nepalese, Japanese, Singaporeans and Bangladeshis.

The Malaysian government will soon ease the rules for participating in the MM2H programme to boost the country’s property and tourism sectors.

The proposed relaxation, among other things, includes abolishing the requirement to disclose the source of participants’ income. The MM2H programme focusses on participants with the right economic profile, for instance those from Japan, Britain and Korea. Most of the foreigners set up second homes mainly in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang under the programme.

Yet, since its launch, there has been much criticism that the true potential of the programme has yet to be tapped.

“The number of people approved under MM2H last year amounted to 1,500 people while this year, I understand the government would be happy if they attracted another 2,000 applicants under the programme,” says The Expat Group chief executive officer Andrew Davison.

Nonetheless, he says that the numbers don’t paint a true picture of the actual people residing in Malaysia.

“For instance, some applicants from South Africa, Indonesia and China apply simply because they want a visa in their backpocket. Many do not actually come to live here.

“The Japanese applicants usually aren’t property buyers. They stay in Malaysia only for three to four months. As for the British, they often relocate here to escape the high taxes and weather in their country,” he says.

Davison says the biggest impediment to the programme is the level of awareness.

“Currently the Government is not treating it with priority. That said, they have mentioned that they will be increasing focus in the programme in the later part of this year,” he says.

Given the current climate, he says, it is the best time to robustly push ahead with the plan.

“Those who participate in this plan are self-sufficient ... they come into a country, immediately bringing in money and foreign exchange. This can benefit all Malaysians. They are more than just tourists. They have relocated here. If there is an outbreak of bird flu or any disease, tourists would be deterred from coming here but the MM2H participants are here to stay.”

In a survey of a 100 expatriate families done in 2006, Davison says that the average monthly expenditure of a foreign MM2H household living in Malaysia was just under RM10,000. A lot more than the expenditure of the average tourist in Malaysia who spends under RM2,000 a visit.”

Clearly, the potential is tremendous. And given Malaysia’s relatively low population density, Davis says it could easily accommodate a further 10,000 participants a year.

Source : STAR
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Bringing in the delegates for MICE Business

THE credit crunch may be shattering economies, but the mood within Malaysia’s business tourism industry is almost crackling with electricity.

Unperturbed by a world on a brink of recession, Malaysia is busy re-packing its image as a value for money, no nonsense business centre.

With Malaysia’s aim to seal itself in the meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition (MICE) market, this has resulted in the birth of a new programme called Myceb (Malaysian Convention and Exhibition Bureau).

During Myceb’s launch in Dec 8 last year, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that Myceb will be Malaysia’s one-stop center to co-ordinate the needs of exhibition organisers and to establish the country as the preferred MICE destination worldwide.

While admitting that the country’s tourism may not be able to completely insulate itself from the global crisis, Najib says it will nonetheless “embark on an aggressive marketing campaign to promote tourism despite the adverse world economic conditions”.

For starters, an initial budget of RM5mil has been channelled to the bureau. This figure is small compared to what countries like Singapore and Thailand are spending.

Nonetheless, MyCEB director Mohd Rosly Selamat says active efforts are already being made to create more impact in the MICE market.

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) general manager Peter Brokenshire says that before 2003, the awareness level on Malaysia as a business destination was low, as MICE was not a priority.

Back then, Tourism Malaysia’s priority was on the FIT (Fully Independent Traveller) and group tourism segment.

“The potential was there. But people were not aware of Malaysia being the centre of business meetings. Back then, there wasn’t much follow up or bidding. To get the international businesses to come here, we need the support of the local associations to be interested enough to extend invitations internationally,” says Brokenshire.

Nonetheless, things changed since the formation of ‘Team Malaysia’ in 2003.

In 2003, with the realisation that business tourism was big money, Team Malaysia was formed to jointly work on garnering MICE events in Malaysia.

Members of Team Malaysia include the KLCC Convention Centre, Tourism Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines System Bhd, (MAS) Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd.

Since then, it has gained traction and has been successful in getting the relevant associations to bid for events.

Statistics wise, a total of 1,013,104 tourists visited Malaysia for MICE purposes in 2007.

It was an improvement of 23.5% compared to 2006 (820,243 tourists). MICE tourist arrivals contributed 5% of the total 20.7 million tourist arrivals to Malaysia.

These conference delegates collectively contributed a total of RM3.17bil in revenue for the country in 2007 or 6.9% of the tourist receipts.

The average per capita expenditure of a MICE tourist was RM3,133 compared to an average per capita spending of RM2,196 by a leisure tourist.

Rosly says that in many cases, MICE tourist expenditures are 3 to 5 times more than an average leisure tourist.

Hence, despite its small share of total visitor arrivals, the MICE market has been seen as a lucrative market due to its higher per-capita expenditure.

Certainly, its no easy task as Malaysia will be competing with established neighbours such as Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and other big names in Asia Pacific.

For instance, in the current economic slowdown, Singapore has gone ahead to release a US$90mil stimulus package specifically for MICE purposes.

Rosly says Malaysia’s selling points include its value-for-money proposition, the state of the art convention centres, its many tourism attractions and appeal, cultural diversity, strong business community and a very supportive government in facilitating ‘business events’ as well as its English speaking population.

“There are plenty of opportunities for us. We are among the best convention centres in the region. Right now, we are trying to encourage our local associations, for example the medical, professional and scientific associations to be more active in bidding for international events,” he says.

Rosly says the bureau aims to bid to host at least two international events per month and hopes to achieve a 20% increase of conference participants by 2011, from one million last year.

For 2009, the bureau is looking at a 10% increase in the number of delegates.

“This would be a challenge in view of the global financial crisis where some of our exhibition organisers are reporting cancellation as well as some down-sizing in their participation.

“Some incentive groups have postponed their trips and some of the convention planners are reviewing their participations,” he says.

Rosly explains that many of the international meetings are done on a rotational basis. The bidding process sometimes take up to six years in advance.

“For example, The Malaysian Association Study on Obesity won the bid to host the International Obesity Conference which will be held in 2014. For events held in 2016, we are already actively putting in bids now. What we’re doing now is to give the push to the associations, and let them know the government is giving them assistance,” says Rosly.

Per year, there are about 6,000 events worldwide.

The International Congress and Convention Association reported 6,768 events in 2006 and 6,681 events in 2007.

While MyCEB is unable to bid for extremely large shows, due to Malaysian centre’s having limitation in capacity, Rosly says this does not really matter as the extremely big shows normally make up only 10% to 15% of all shows.

“We still have the 85% of shows we can bid for,” he says.

From the regional market, MyCEB is now targeting countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, China, the Middle East and India.

“As the awareness on Malaysia as a MICE destination is not enough, what we do is to bring in the event organisers for site inspection. Many of them are headquartered in Amsterdam and Paris. So we bring them in, spoil them and impress them with our service and infrastructure,” he says.

Situated at the centre of Kuala Lumpur’s Central Business District, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (the Centre) is a RM550mil investment with a total of 20,059 sq m of function space.

A component of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, (KLCC) is managed and operated by Convex Malaysia Sdn Bhd, a joint-venture company between KLCC (Holdings) Sdn Bhd and AEG Ogden Pty Ltd, Australia.

The Centre’s general manager Peter Brokenshire feels that as the present economic crisis deepens, Malaysia will become more attractive as a value-for-money MICE proposition.

“With the formation of MyCEB, it’s going to take Malaysia to another level in business tourism. MICE is gaining momentum. My feel is that, there is now a strong desire to come to Malaysia for MICE purposes.”

“We’re winning bids again and we’ve received very good feedback with regards to the KLCC precint. It’s right smack in town, and has the premier shopping complex and the Petronas Twin towers just beside it. We’ve also had comments on the warm and friendly people. MICE delegates have been delighted with the airport arrival,” he says.

Brokenshire certainly has reason to cheer, The Centre has been noticeably successful in attracting MICE events since it officially opened in 2005.

In 2008, the Centre recorded a remarkable 51% growth over 2007 to 45 events, the highest so far since the Centre’s opening in 2005.

Of the 45 conventions, 38 (82%) were international and the remainder were local events, which attracted 51,919 delegates representing 147,312 delegate days (67% increase over 2007).

The Centre was also the venue for 543 events comprising 153 banquets and functions, 45 conventions, 53 exhibitions, 255 meeting and events and 27 entertainment productions. Of the 543 events, 17% were international events.

The event size grew from an average of 3,300 attendees per event to 3,800 while room occupancy rate increased by 12%.

These events attracted 2.06 million delegates, representing 2.2 million delegate days and generated an estimated RM568mil in terms of economic impact to the city against RM469mil in 2007.

Hence, since its opening in June 2005 up to December 2008, the Centre has contributed more than RM1.8bil to the city and secured a total of some 1,800 events.

As at February 2009, the Centre had secured more than 360 bookings for this year plus 24 international and regional conferences for 2009 and beyond.

Brokenshire says that the Centre is now targeting events from countries such as Australia, Europe, and Britain.

It also regularly participates in trade shows in the Middle East, the US, Australia and Europe.

He adds that it is normal for conventions centres in other countries to encounter the “white elephant” problem during the initiation process.

Brokenshire cites the example of a famous exhibition building in the Asia Pacific region, which encountered the same problem as the KLCC Convention Centre when it first tried to establish itself as a business meeting point.

“It was called the White Elephant until the World Aids Organization held the AIDS congress in 2002. Suddenly the restaurants were full, the taxis were busy. In 10 days, one cab driver mentioned that he made his income for a year! In one of the shops, they ran out of Rolex watches! So people need to see and feel it before they understand how important it is,” says Brokenshire.

Meanwhile, just last month, The CEI Industry Awards recognised the excellence of the KLCC, granting it “Asia’s Best Convention & Exhibition Centre”.

CEI Asia Pacific is one of the region’s leading titles for the MICE industry, which culls views and opinions of CEI readers in an industry survey.

Source : STAR
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Finding the right Tourism Strategies for Malaysia by Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman

This 2009 is definitely going to be a tough year for the tourism industry across the world as the worsening economic crisis causes long-haul visitors to stay home and regional travellers to cut short their trips to cut back on spending.

And bracing for the challenges ahead, most tourism authorities across the Asian region have already set their tourist-arrival targets lower for 2009.

For instance, Hong Kong is expecting a shortfall of 1.6% in tourist arrivals for 2009 compared with 29.5 million in 2008, while Singapore anticipates its tourist arrivals this year to fall between 9 and 9.5 million, compared with 10.1 million last year. For Thailand, where tourism is one of the pillar industries to the economy, the number of foreign visitors is expected to fall from 14.24 million last year to 14 million in 2009.

In line with the regional trend, Malaysia’s tourist-arrival target of 20 million for 2009 represents a decline of 9% from the numbers achieved last year.

Azalina ... I have always reiterated my idea of “two countries, one destination”. Singapore should not be seen as a competitor, but as a partner

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman in an interview with StarBizWeek recently says aggressive and targeted campaigns to promote Malaysia to the world would be her ministry’s defensive mode against falling short of the “lowered” tourist-arrival target for this year.

But while the Tourism Ministry endeavours to “sell Malaysia” aggressively to foreigners, Azalina points out that it is going to take a concerted effort by everyone in the country to make tourism Malaysia a greater success.

Undoubtedly, by merely looking at the figures, one can say Malaysia’s tourism industry has come a long way since 1998 to where it is today.

Total tourist arrivals and receipts had grown from 5.5 million people and RM8.6bil, respectively, in 1998, to 22.05 million tourists with total receipts estimated at RM48.5bil last year.

About half of the tourists visiting Malaysia are from its neighbour Singapore – a natural tendency, given the close proximity and easy access to move between both countries.

Similarly, Hong Kong’s tourist arrivals are dominated by Mainland Chinese, who represent 57.1% of its total foreign visitors last year.

An industry observer points out that it does not really matter where our tourists come from as long as they contribute to the income of the country. He says: “At the end of the day, it is all about the money.”

Below is the excerpt of the interview with Azalina:

It’s all about the money

Starbizweek: The Government is targeting 20 million tourists for 2009. Given the present economic headwind, do you think the numbers are achievable? How?

Azalina: We believe that with the right strategies, we can hit the numbers. The whole idea of tourism Malaysia this year is to work at different regions and market segments with different approaches to “sell Malaysia”. I don’t believe we can use the same marketing strategy on the different countries of the world.

Take the Middle Eastern and Chinese tourists. For the Middle Eastern tourists, they like Malaysia, first because of the shopping experience, then the weather, and they are comfortable with the halal food environment. For the Chinese tourists, they are certainly very comfortable with what Malaysia has to offer because there are many Chinese descendants here, and then, there is a casino in Genting Highlands and good food in Penang.

In addition, we have the thematic and tactical campaigns, whereby we will focus on promoting niche products such as medical and health, and educational tourism, as well as meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) and Malaysia My Second Home programme (MM2H) to increase tourist expenditure.

We also plan to form strategic alliances and smart partnerships with foreign airlines, national tourism organisations and tour operators to minimise the impact of the global economic challenges.

We also want to introduce new products and offer special packages so that tourists would not get bored of visiting Malaysia. Providing them something new and fresh will help us improve tourist retention or encourage repeat visitors.

Singaporeans have long been the main driver of our tourism industry. Any plans to diversify and improve the spread of tourist arrivals?

Azalina: Increasing tourism revenue is our main objective. So, whether it is medium or long haul, we want tourists to lengthen their stay and increase their spending in Malaysia.

(Based on the statistics of 2007, Singaporean tourists stayed an average 4.6 days and spent an average of about RM2,000 per person, while the average length of stay by tourists from Saudi Arabia was 10.1 days with an average per capita expenditure of RM8,000.)

We believe Singapore will continue to provide us with the highest number of potential and repeat tourists because of easy access and the connectivity between us. But we are also looking at the Indonesian market to bring in more tourists.

One thing we cannot deny is the fact that Asean countries will continue to play the role of giving us the continuous and constant flow of tourists because of our closeness with each other.

And especially in this time of global economic crisis, intra-Asean travel is more likely going to be the sector that can help us counter the potential shortfall of tourists from other countries. So, we are actively promoting it.

On another note, I have always reiterated my idea of ‘two countries, one destination’. Singapore should not be seen as a competitor, but as a partner. We can target tourists who visit Singapore by working closely with the Singaporean government and tour operators, and come up with packages that will include Malaysia as part of their visits, and vice versa. Through this, we will be able to attract more tourists and create a better spread of tourist arrivals.

The long-haul tourist segment is expected to slow down drastically. How do you approach this challenge?

Azalina: I think we should not see the long-haul market as one that is in destitute. Rather, we should continue to target the market with even more aggressive strategies.

I believe Malaysia still has the ‘pull-factor’ to attract long-haul tourists because of our position as an affordable tourist destination. For instance, to many of the people in Europe, the ringgit is still low compared to their currencies. Also, our hotel rates are among the cheapest in the Asean region.

So, even for the budget travellers, there is affordability and accessibility. And the good thing is, we do not discriminate whether the foreigners come here as budget or non-budget tourists.

The services we offer to them are the same.

Nevertheless, to be effective in drawing more tourists to our country, I believe we should focus on tactical campaigns. Say, we want to “sell Malaysia” to the Australian market. We cannot assume every Australian tourist wants to do the same thing in Malaysia. There are different segments of society in that market that we can target such as the pensioner, young professionals, university students and children. And we attract them by offering them what they like most such as eco-tourism to nature lovers and MM2H to the silver-hair segment.

Are we targeting any new market as long-haul tourists?

Azalina: Oh, yes... we are looking at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. With the oil money that they have, they are certainly a good potential to us. But we must do more aggressive promotions and improve our connectivity with them.

Every minute is money

How effective is the branding campaign of ‘Malaysia-Truly Asia’ in promoting tourism?

Azalina: Since the launch of the ‘Malaysia - Truly Asia’ campaign in 1999, tourist arrivals had risen from eight million to 22.05 million last year, and total receipts were up from RM12bil to RM46bil as at the end of 2007.

If that is not enough, let’s consider the more than 25 international awards that we have bagged so far for the campaign.

These include the AMEGold award for ‘Asia’s Best Long-Term Marketing and Branding Campaign’ by Asia-Pacific’s leading marketing trade magazine, Media; and the first-ever triple gold awards from Pacific Asia Travel Association for the television, print and website categories in 2007.

And for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008, Malaysia had been named ‘The World’s Best Tourism Destination’ by the US-based Global Traveller Magazine.

More importantly, when I meet people overseas, the people there can sing back to me that signature tune of ‘Malaysia-Truly Asia’.

With that tagline, we want to send out the message that if you want to see the whole of Asia, you just come to Malaysia. A lot of people understand that tagline and want to come to Malaysia to see for themselves.

Then again, we may assume that those from similar background may not be interested to come to Malaysia. But that is not true – we have a high number of tourists coming from China, India, Asean and West Asia.

There is a notion that we are not doing enough to woo tourists. What is your comment?

Azalina: The numbers speak for themselves. I think it is totally unfair for Malaysians to say we are not doing enough to bring in tourists.

The perception is that we are not wooing enough tourists despite all the efforts. The underutilisation of KLIA, for instance, is a direct reflection of that. What do you think?

Azalina: Oh well, that’s why I tend to have conflicts with some local airline and airport management companies. For the fact that we have KLIA at a location with such vast space... there are so many things that we can do to promote and make it tourist-friendly. But this is beyond my jurisdiction.

When you talk about tourism, there must be a coordinated effort by everyone. It cannot be a competition between airlines, or a competition between hotels and between governments. It must be a complimentary relationship between all the entities that are involved directly or indirectly in the tourism business.

Nevertheless, judging from the number of tourist arrivals, Malaysia is currently the No 1 tourist location within Asean, and No 2 within the whole of Asia after China. I think it is high time for us to appreciate our own strength and stop comparing ourselves with others.

How is the MM2H programme progressing?

Azalina: Well, we acknowledge that there are still many weaknesses in the programme and we have brought these up to the Cabinet committee. We all agree that this programme has great potential, so we want to make the application process more easy, accessible and faster for those who want to be a part of it.

We cannot be offering the MM2H programme with too many conditions and regulations attached. For instance, we cannot be telling people to park their money in our banks, and then be suspicious of their intention and ask them so many questions as if they are terrorists or money launderers.

I believe that if we make the MM2H programme more flexible, more foreigners would want to participate in it. After all, Malaysia is an affordable place to live in.

The Cabinet has agreed on making some changes to the programme, and I hope we can come up with an improved MM2H programme soon.

What about eco, medical and educational tourism?

Azalina: For eco-tourism, we are already in a very good position in terms of having the right infrastructure and natural resources. For instance, we can boast of forest reserves like Taman Negara and beautiful islands like Perhentian and Sipadan.

Having said that, it is also important for every state to have sustainable development policies, so that we do not give foreigners the impression that we encourage eco-tourism but we do not have policies that support eco-tourism.

I am very pleased that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is willing to work with us in this aspect. We have formed a joint committee to brainstorm better approaches and policies to support the environment.

As for medical and educational tourism, a lot more can be done to improve these sectors. For medical tourism, we are advantaged because we have good hospitals and doctors, and we can offer value-for-money quality medical services.

So, I believe we are actually in a better position than Singapore and Thailand. I see the potential of Indonesians who used to go to Singapore for medical services diverting their preference to Malaysia, given the current economic climate.

How do you plan to improve these two segments?

Azalina: We are working closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. Where changes need to be done, we are pushing for it to be done fast, because in the tourism business, every minute is money.

Easy money to earn

What are the challenges you encounter when promoting Malaysia to foreigners?

Azalina: One of the challenges is the state of our public facilities, especially toilets. I have to say Malaysians have very bad toilet habits. I always do spot checks on toilets whenever I am around tourist areas, and I always come out feeling disappointed.

The people in charge of that particular building or premise will always have good excuses for the state of their toilets.

We must have good and proper facilities to make tourists feel comfortable when they come to our country so that they have reasons to visit Malaysia again later.

I also feel challenged with the existence of some ‘unscrupulous personalities’. For example, there have been complaints that some of our taxi drivers and even tour guides have not been honest in their dealings. So, we hope that with the setting up of the Public Complaints Bureau, tourists who voice their grievances can help us identify our weaknesses, so that we can improve.

What is your ministry going to do about the cleanliness of facilities (or the lack of it) issue?

Azalina: I can say it is not the sole responsibility of the Tourism Ministry to ensure cleanliness, but the local and state governments as well as the local communities should also play their part.

On our part, we will continue with our aggressive campaigns to promote Malaysia, but we hope the local communities will have that sense of responsibility and awareness of the role they play. The public cannot just leave everything up to the government. It doesn’t work that way.

Are you satisfied with the infrastructure that we have in Malaysia in helping to promote tourism?

Azalina: Definitely not. Sometimes, I even feel embarrassed because Malaysia has such great potential and yet most infrastructure and facilities are poorly maintained.

Take our signboards. They are just pathetic and this bothers me a lot. Be it highway, location or product signboards, we just don’t seem to have good signboards. And I don’t know why! Is it because of multiple jurisdictions or different entities that are in charge of signboards?

I hope that the local government agencies would take the responsibility to ensure that there are adequate and good signboards within their respective areas.

What’s most important is that all of us need be aware that Malaysia is a tourist country – a ‘tourist star’ – and it is the equal responsibility of ALL Malaysians to see that our tourism products and facilities are well maintained.

After all, tourism is not just about the government benefiting, but also the people benefiting as well. You see, tourism money is very easy to earn. The minute the tourist arrives, it is already money to us. The way they spend on transportation, food, accommodation, and so on so forth, makes all businesses inter-related.

That’s why so many countries in the world want to make tourism sector as one of their major income drivers. As for Malaysia, I believe we are already on the right track to achieving this.

If the ministry continues with its aggressive marketing campaigns, and Malaysians respond positively to the roles they can play, then we can earn much more tourism money, and make our country the ideal tourist destination for anyone in the world. But it must be a concerted effort by all levels of society in Malaysia.

Has the rising crime rate in Malaysia made us less popular as a tourist haven?

I always make a standard defence by saying that the crime rate in Malaysia is still low compared to other countries. Even when one travels to other countries, there is also the risk of falling victim to crime there. It could happen anywhere and to anyone. I think what really matter is that our police are making the effort to reduce crime in Malaysia.

(Crime rate in Malaysia for 2007 was 772 cases for every 100,000 population, compared with Singapore’s 740.7 cases for every 100,000 population, Hong Kong’s 1,166, Japan’s 1,569, Australia’s 4,470 and Rome’s 8,341.)

Spending money at home

How do you plan to drive domestic tourism?

Azalina: With the ongoing global economic challenges, we encourage Malaysians to tour domestically and spend their money within the country. We have the Zoom! campaign to promote domestic tourism and we do not differentiate between opposition or non-opposition states.

We also have various visuals to promote the different parts of the country, and we want to make domestic tourism more interesting for Malaysians by coming out with new tourism products and packages.

The Zoom! billboard campaign has attracted some criticisms. How would you respond to them?

Azalina: As I have explained this many times, even in other countries, or some states in Malaysia, for that matter, certain billboards do have visuals of their leadership.

Then again, we have also changed our billboard visuals according to the events happening in that particular place and time. Visuals are part of our publicity and promotional campaigns that we cannot do without.

At the end of the day, we still spend less, compared to some other countries (if you like), on our publicity and promotional campaigns. Last year, we spent about RM200mil, or only about 5% of our total tourism receipts, when others normally take 10%.

What is your personal take on tourism Malaysia?

Holidaying, or taking a vacation is a very personal experience to each individual. Everyone does it. No one can tell me they don’t take a vacation. I think that’s a lie. The question is just whether one is travelling domestic or abroad – or the choice of location that one makes to be in.

I believe if we keep promoting Malaysia to people – Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike – about what we have in the country, the ministry has already made a good economic strategy on its part.

Source : STAR
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Feeling the slowdown effects at KLIA

“BUSINESS has been particularly slow since last month for all of us here, although we already felt some slowdown effects last November,” Raja says in reference to the sales of hotel-reservation counters at the KL International Airport (KLIA).

“We are so free most of the day now that it feels like we can actually start a soccer session here,” he adds.

Being the main gateway into Malaysia, KLIA helps to gauge how the worsening economic crisis is affecting travellers. Based on the words of the ground workers, it is obvious that things are not looking good, as their businesses have been affected by the drastic fall in the number of travellers.

Raja, who has been mending a reservation counter at KLIA for a leading hotel for three years, estimates the sales at his counter to have fallen by 20% to 30% since January.

Raja’s sentiment is shared by Azman – the manager of a cafe in KLIA – who also estimates his business to have shrunk around 20% to 30% since last month.

“We don’t see as many Westerners these days. Most of them who come are business travellers, but we still see a lot of Chinese and Indian visitors,” Azman says.

Azman is now looking forward to the months of June to July, when the “Arab visitors season” begins.

“Hopefully, business will be brisk then,” he says.

Meanwhile, Azman is looking at cutting his costs by 20% to 30% by controlling his orders and limiting the staff number to counter this downturn in his business.

It is also not so easy for KLIA limousine drivers, Azhar and Rizal, who have started feeling the strain on their businesses since last November.

“We just have to work harder and longer hours to the point of staying overnight at the airport to wait for customers,” they say.

Both Azhar and Rizal say tourist arrivals are so few and far in between that most of their businesses are with local residents returning from their travel. Even then, they say, businesses have dropped by 40% since late last year.

For another taxi driver, Dom, he is banking on travellers at the low-cost-carrier terminal (LCCT) to save his day.

“KLIA is just too quiet for my business ... but it is okay at the LCCT. Then again, most of my passengers are local travellers, and very few are foreign travellers,” he says.

Source : STAR
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CCTV says SORRY for the Fireworks that burnt down Mandarin Oriental Beijing

Scorched and blackened by fire, the nearly-completed tower housing the Mandarin Oriental Hotel escaped serious damage.

AN unauthorised Olympics-style fireworks display put on by CCTV was behind the inferno at the state broadcaster's own new building complex which killed one fireman and injured seven others.

The Beijing fire authorities yesterday revealed that China Central Television, which owns the 30-storey tower that caught fire on Monday night, had 'gone against police advice' and 'insisted' on the display, which involved powerful fireworks similar to those used during the Beijing Olympic Games in August last year.

A senior official with 'the office of the CCTV new headquarters construction project' had engaged a Hunan fireworks company to set off hundreds of fireworks in an empty lot in front of the nearly-completed tower which houses the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, state media reported the Beijing Fire Control Bureau as saying.

The luxury 241-room hotel's opening was scheduled for this summer and was unoccupied during the blaze. The CCTV fire occurred during the Lantern Festival when many Chinese set off fireworks and firecrackers to mark the end of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations.

CCTV yesterday apologised on its website for the fire: 'We feel very hurt that the fire caused a big loss of national wealth... We apologise to the nearby people for the traffic jams and inconvenience caused by the fire.'

It did not say if the fire would delay its move into its new base originally scheduled for October.

Mr Luo Yuan, deputy chief of the bureau, said the people who set off the fireworks have been detained for questioning. Firefighter Zhang Jianyong, 29, died yesterday due to respiratory tract injuries.

The damaged 159m-high tower is located 200m north of the CCTV complex's main inverted L-shaped structure. The structure, one of Beijing's top architectural draws, escaped serious damage.

The 5 billion yuan (S$1 billion) CCTV complex was designed by renowned Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture.

Videos posted online showed that the fire had started at the top of the tower. It took some 600 firefighters over five hours to put out the blaze, which began around 8.30pm.

One reason why the fire spread so quickly could be linked to the tower's design. The hotel boasts an open central section from top to bottom, akin to a huge airwell in the middle of the hotel, a Beijing-based architect with knowledge of the project told The Straits Times.

'The airwell provided the fire with a lot of oxygen, functioning sort of like a chimney,' he said.

He added that because the building was not yet operational, fire systems such as sprinklers and automatic fire doors which could have helped limit the spread of the fire were not activated.

Source : StraitTimes
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Mandarin Oriental Beijing On Fire

A new 44-story luxury hotel in downtown Beijing was engulfed in flames Monday after being showered with sparks from fireworks set off during China's biggest holiday.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries.

The Rem Koolhaas-designed Mandarin Oriental hotel, still under construction, caught fire sometime before 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) as the skies above the Chinese capital were filled with fireworks — part of celebrations of the lantern festival that follows the Lunar New Year.

The shooting flames sent off huge plumes of black smoke and showered the ground with embers. At least seven fire crews were on the scene, and police held back crowds of onlookers and closed a nearby elevated highway to ensure safety.

One onlooker, Li Jian, said he saw smoke rise from the hotel's roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks showered it with sparks, though it was not clear if the sparks started the fire.

"Smoke came out for a little while, but then it just started burning," Li said.

People answering the phone at the Beijing fire department confirmed the fire but said they were unable to release any details.

Crews had largely exinguished the larger flames about three hours after the fire began, although hotspots continued to flicker.

Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but waives the rules each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Monday, the final day of the exemption period, marked the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and massive fireworks barrages exploded in open spaces throughout the city.

The hotel, which had been due to open this year, is next to China Central Television's landmark Z-shaped headquarters, a major prestige project for the city. The television headquarters was not burning. The Mandarin Oriental was expected to be one of Beijing's most luxurious hotels, with 241 guest rooms.

Both buildings were designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren for the firm OMA. Both were nearing the end of construction.

The fire had destroyed years of hard work, said Erik Amir, a senior architect at OMA, who rushed to the site.

"I think it's really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public," he said.

Source : Katu
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