Malaysia will focus on positioning itself as a destination for the niche segment and family outbound from India, says Tourism Minister

The Days when Malaysia was clubbed with a planned visit to Singapore and Thailand by the Indian outbound seem to be truly behind us. Malaysia, thanks to its diverse tourism products, especially with the niche segment – which the outbound has taken a keen liking to, ranging from golf, spa, wellness, shopping and weddings – has truly emerged as a standalone destination. Now, the Malaysian tourism ministry is assiduously planning to stake claim on the family outbound with sharp focus on four key UNESCO sites in the country, apart from promoting the spa and wellness segment. On radar are not only major tier-1 cities, but also important tier-2 and tier-3 cities in India, beside an amplified presence in the online space. In an exclusive interview, TourismFirst speaks with Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Hon’ble Minster of Tourism, Malaysia to understand how the country is poised to make the most of its diverse assets, beside deciphering some important trends in the country’s inbound. Excerpts:

Dato' Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia11

How important is tourism for the Malaysian economy? What is its stake in the overall economic growth and development?

According to the Tourism Satellite Account 2015 report prepared by Department of Statistics Malaysia, contribution to the Tourism Direct Gross Domestic Product (TDGDP) to the GDP is 6%. In terms of GNI ranking for 2015, tourism is the third in ranking behind Oil, Gas & Energy (rank 1) and Wholesale & retail (rank 2). Employment in the tourism industry is 2.9 million or about 20.7% from the total employment for 2015.

As part of Malaysia’s growth plan towards high income status, tourism was selected as one of the National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) under the National Transformation Programme (NTP) in 2010. The impact of tourism goes beyond tourist arrivals or tourist receipts. Its impact is most important on the sustainable development of our economy and society.  Since the inception of NTP, the tourism industry has opened up new opportunities and benefited Malaysians.

Malaysia has developed quite a number of products, especially in the niche segment. How much is the niche segment driving traffic for you?

Based on Departing Visitors Survey(DVS) conducted by Tourism Malaysia, overall, shopping, health & wellness and MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Convention, Exhibition) are the niche segments that are growing as the main purpose of visit for tourists to Malaysia. 

However, Indians are amongst the high spenders while on vacation and we have seen this trend while they holiday in Malaysia as well. It’s great to see that the Indian market is warming up to the concept of niche tourism. Shopping, Golfing, Destination weddings and honeymoons are quite popular with the Indian ‘niche’ travellers. Needless to mention, the returns are high from this segment and in the coming years you can expect some aggressive marketing activities to promote these niche products.

At the same time, we are looking forward to new attractions generating renewed interest to the destination – Resorts World Genting’s 20th Century Fox World outdoor theme park and Ipoh’s Movie Animation Park Studios.

Malaysia has been a pioneer in creating world-class infrastructure, especially in the Asian region. Have the footfalls been commensurate to the Malaysian government’s efforts in that direction? How has Malaysia benefitted from this constant infrastructural infusion in the tourism sector?

The improvements and upgrades to our public facilities such as MRT and airports enable us to provide greater convenience to tourists and facilitate their enjoyment of traveling to/within Malaysia.  This gives them more opportunity to visits more products.  Tourists can now conveniently travel from our borders with Thailand to the heart of Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur!

Given the global political scenario, with Europe staring at a tough year ahead, and the USA looking at putting in place protectionist measures, how crucial do you think tourism is to the global community? What role do you see tourism playing in limiting the impact of these factors?

Tourism has always played a vital role in ensuring the growth of the world economy. It constitutes 10% of the world’s GDP and 7.0% of the world’s export. According to the latest survey of UNWTO’s Panel of Experts shows continued confidence in 2017, with the large majority (63%) of the some 300 respondents expecting ‘better’ or ‘much better’ results than in 2016. Based on current trends, the outlook of the UNWTO Panel of Experts and economic prospects, UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals worldwide to grow at a rate of 3% to 4% in 2017. Europe is expected to grow at 2% to 3%, Asia and the Pacific and Africa both at 5% to 6%, the Americas at 4% to 5% and the Middle East at 2% to 5%, given the higher volatility in the region.

India is no stranger to Malaysia. Your campaign, “Truly Asia” has been one of the most catchy and successful outreach campaigns. However, a large majority of Indian travellers remain unaware of the gamut of products and experiences that await them. How do you plan to drive destination awareness in the Indian market, and how important is India for your overall tourist footfalls?

India is an important market for us, amongst the top six source markets for a long time now. In the past ten years, we have seen a growth from 150,000 tourists to over 722,000 tourists, which is quite significant. There have been changes in the traveller profile as well. Earlier, Malaysia was seen as one among the trinity including Singapore and Thailand. Now, we see people booking exclusive Malaysian holidays and also opting for places beyond Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. These are all encouraging signs for us as there is so much that Malaysia has to offer to our guests from shopping to spas, adventure to homestay, golf vacations to theme parks, hiking to diving in exclusive spots, we have something for everyone.

In 2017, while we continue to position Malaysia as a perfect family holiday destination, there will also be emphasis on experiential holidays like spa holidays, art and culture trips and culinary vacations. Also with UNWTO declaring the ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, there will be focus on the 4 UNESCO sites in Malaysia namely: Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Melaka & George Town in Penang and Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong  Valley, Perak.

Besides mainstream advertising, we will be participating in a host of marketing activities not just in the metros but also in the Tier II & III markets which is a growing segment. You will see a significant presence of Malaysia in the digital space as well. Joint promotions with airlines and on-ground partners are also mainstay in our marketing plans for the year.

We understand that the visa issue has been a restricting factor in creating move tailwind for footfalls from India. What is your take on it?

As of Jan-Dec 2016, there was 453,815 visas that have been approved, which is an increase of 10.73% from the same period in 2015. Different types of visa have been introduced to facilitate Indian tourists to Malaysia such as the e-Visa (online visa application) which was introduced to India since April 2016 and Visa on Arrival (validity of 7 days) was introduced in 2014.  Immigration Department of Malaysia together with Tourism Malaysia will be promoting the e-Visa services to increase awareness in the Indian market. 

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