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Tourism players sound red alert  Mar 01, 2009

With everyone worldwide tightening their belts, the question arises whether enough is being done to keep the tourists coming to Malaysia.

THE Tourism Ministry is seeking a RM400 million stimulus package to be spent over three months, but will this be enough?

The 22.5 million tourists who visited Malaysia last year spent about RM48 billion, which is an improvement over 2007 when more than 20 million tourists spent about RM44 billion.

For this year, a positive Tourism Ministry and Tourism Malaysia are looking towards at least 20 million visitors to keep the tourism till ringing.

But the effects of the world economic downturn is already being felt by Malaysians in the retail, hospitality, hotel and food sectors. Tour operators have also been affected.

Some sectors have issued the red alert while others are working out the numbers to see how they have been affected and how bad things are going to be in the coming months.

The government's optimism for tourism may be there but the Malaysian Retailers Association is concerned because business has been very slow for them from the last quarter of 2008.

"Business has been very slow after Hari Raya Aidilfitri," said association president Eddy Chan.

"People are reluctant to spend money with many consumers tightening their belts."

It's not only the local spending that has the retailers worried. Tourists account for about 20 per cent of the RM70 billion in retail sales.

Hoteliers are seeing bookings slowing down by at least 10-12 per cent, said Association of Hotels president Datuk Mohd Ilyas Zainol Abidin.

"We are expecting to feel the heat in the second half of this year.

The retailers and hoteliers have conveyed their concern to Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Azalina, who met the Treasury on Thursday over the stimulus package, said the ministry was looking to spend more money to spur tourism growth and provide tax incentives to industry players.

"We will also provide assistance to the people handling Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) through promotions and advertising."

This is an important area as the average visitor in this segment spends up to RM7,000 compared with the RM2,000 the average tourist spends.

The ministry will also look into those involved in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme and look at ways to cut red tape.

"We will also help the state governments by providing funding for the maintenance and upkeep of tourism sites and attractions."

It is understood RM40 million will go towards training.

"Our tourist guides and other people in the industry must be able to better handle tourists," said Azalina.

There will also be more efforts to encourage Malaysians to holiday at home.

Azalina, who has been meeting industry players regularly, is confident that Malaysia will attract 20 million visitors this year.

In January this year, Malaysia received 1.5 million visitors, a 1.5 per cent increase from January last year.

"This is a good indicator that we are on the right track."

Retailers putting great faith on the `big three', says EDDY CHAN, President of Malaysian Retailers Association

THE more people read about recession and the credit crunch, the more they are tightening their belts. 'Recession' and 'credit crunch' are very scary words now.

Business is bad. It has been very slow for Malaysian retailers from the last quarter of last year. We felt the slowdown after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

But we are placing great hope on the three annual nationwide sales -- the Malaysia GP Sale, the Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival and the end-of-the-year Malaysia Savings Sales.

These sales are also aimed at the tourists for they spend about RM14 billion, or 20 per cent of the annual RM70 billion that the Malaysian retail trade is worth.

More needs to be done by the government to promote Malaysia as an affordable shopping destination.

On our part, we support the government by participating in many of their promotions and programmes, including the 'Buy Malaysian' campaign.

The impulse buying is only with the well-heeled for many Malaysian are very careful with their shopping, preferring to spend only on essentials.

Malaysians are reluctant to spend because they feel that most of the prices that were raised when world oil prices hit a high in the middle of last year have not come down accordingly.

People are questioning retailers about prices. If our suppliers bring down the prices, we can lower our prices."

Good time to train hotel staff, says Datuk Mohd Ilyas Zainol Abidin, President, Malaysian Association of Hotels

THE market is Asean and it has more than 500 million people.

We are looking at intra-Asean travel to lessen the effects of the global recession's effects on tourism.

At the Asean Tourism Forum in Hanoi early last month, member countries agreed to cross-sell each other to promote tourism within the region. Asean is a very affordable destination and intra-Asean travel is going to be big.

What we will be doing is selling 'two countries, one destination' packages.

This means if a tourist is staying in Singapore for a few nights, he can also spend a few more in Malaysia before flying home.

Hotel bookings are down at least 10 to 12 per cent. We are expecting to feel the heat of the recession in the second half of the year.

At the rate things are going, we are confident Malaysia and the association members will weather the impact of the recession.

This is a good time to look at training staff and upgrading the hotels as construction materials are cheaper now.

When the good times return, both the properties and hotel staff will then be ready for the tourists."

Don't neglect needs of visiting Singaporeans, says Datuk Abdullah Jonid, former Tourism Malaysia chairman and director-general

DON'T take Singaporeans for granted. They make up some 60 per cent of tourist arrivals in Malaysia.

They are our neighbours and partners.

The recession will have its effects on tourist arrivals, so we have to be creative to keep them coming.

Malaysia is still a value-for-money destination for Singaporeans, offering good food and affordable hotels and the people are hospitable.

We cannot treat them like Malaysians.

Singaporeans are different from us. They are more sophisticated and their needs are different.

It is important to think outside the box because we are not only competing with our neighbours for the tourist dollar but also dealing with consumer behavioural patterns.

We have to look in the mirror and ask pertinent questions like whether we are doing it right.

Are we giving tourists a truly Malaysian experience which will make them come back for more? Are there many repeat visitors?

Malaysia is interested in playing the numbers game but do we have the infrastructure to handle the millions who come in, and do we have the tourist attractions?

It would be pointless to play the numbers game if the 'house' is not in order.

Malaysia is not giving what it has promised in eco-tourism. Are we better than our neighbours in medical tourism? In attracting students to study here, are we better than the best?"

Tourism players sound red alert
Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said / Image via

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