eTN publisher Juergen T. Steinmetz recently sat down with Malaysia’s minister of Tourism and Culture for an exclusive interview and discussed the travel and tourism situation and outlook for Malaysia. This interview was conducted during the World Travel Market in London earlier in November and before the recent global security threats to the travel and tourism industry.
eTN: What are your tourism objectives right now, after the difficulties of the two airline disasters?
MOHAMED NAZRI ABDUL AZIZ: It is true, we had very challenging years. This happened in 2013 and 2014, and it does still have a negative effect on 2015, because there is no closure. The Chinese are very upset with this. In spite of that, we still achieved 27.4 million tourists in 2014, over than 1 million more compared to 2013. But this year, 2015, because of the tragedies and the flood in early January and now the haze, compared to 2014, we are down by 9 percent. But compared to 2013, we are still 0.4 percent better – that’s the statistics up through June. But otherwise, Tourism Malaysia is not just about one particular year. Tourism Malaysia is forever, so we just continue to work hard, hoping that 2016 will be a better year for us.
In GOASEAN [a ASEAN-focused travel initiative to promote ASEAN as a single tourism destination], the Prime Minister, in Malaysia’s tenure of Tourism ASEAN, came up with this idea, and we at Tourism Malaysia embrace this, because we feel that our [offerings] in every country, just as we are working very hard to promote tourism, so are they. They are aggressive – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore – and we are trying to make ASEAN [which also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam] as one tourism destination so that people who know ASEAN, will know Malaysia. All these countries are competing countries, and there is an old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” and I think it was a brilliant idea to create GOASEAN. We are saying, yes, go and visit Thailand, and also fly over to Kuala Lumpur.
eTN: We were running the ASEAN tourism discussion board, and no one knew we were doing it, they thought it was being done from Thailand. From the old days, there were some very good initiatives that were abandoned. Do you see them coming back? For instance, you had an airline pass at one time where you could go on almost any airline for $99 in ASEAN, including Malaysia Airlines, between any city, and it was an easy product to sell. It was supposed to be followed with a similar hotel plan like Singapore does with its stop-over programs. Do you think this kind of cooperation is still possible?
AZIZ: I can’t depend on my national airline, because they are just doing their restructuring, and I don’t know how long it will take them, so this is not the time to talk to them about such an arrangement. But I am working with other airlines, like Thai International, and, of course, we have our budget airlines.
eTN: You are all in the same boat facing similar challenges. Look at Thailand, look at Thai with their license agreements in Europe. So now Malaysia, you’ve got a German guy running it, so I feel very confident .
AZIZ: As I said, we want to take advantage of our aggressive neighbors, so we introduced the two-destination package, so that you visit Thailand, you visit Malaysia; you visit Singapore, you visit Malaysia. So this way we can get at least some of the goodies that going to Thailand in Asia, they’ll do another destination like Malaysia. I hope this can help us to bring more tourists to the country during this challenging time.
eTN: Malaysia is ASEAN, of course, and if you look at the messages out there, what would be your message for Malaysia? Is it a message for cultural tourism, for shopping?
AZIZ: Kuala is family tourism, which is good for shopping, visiting eco reserves, and I think we have been successful with this. We will continue to promote Malaysia as a family tourism destination.
eTN: A few weeks ago, I was in Japan and attended the Halal Tourism forum, and I know a gentleman from Malaysia was leading this forum. I found this quite fascinating as a potential market, especially from the Gulf region. Is this something Malaysia is exploring?
AZIZ: We are the pioneers Halal tourism, what we call Islamic tourism. We have been the leading Islamic tourism destination for the last six years. Certainly there is a big market for Islamic tourism, and other countries are following suit. Islamic tourism, especially those from the Middle East, are certainly our target. We are also conservative, and it just blends with our family tourist destination, so, yes, we are promoting aggressively Islamic tourism in the country.
eTN: When you look for tourism arrivals from Europe for example, you are here at World Travel Market, what would be your main selling point for someone from the European Union?
AZIZ: We certainly have a diverse cultural background, and, of course, our eco tourism – we have so many UNESCO recognized sites; we have 6 of them. We have the oldest rain forest in the world, much older than the Amazon and Congo basin. So we know European travelers are very environmentally conscious, and in a way, when we promote eco tourism, that is something that they want to see. While they are touring the country, they also want to know whether we are taking good care through conservation and preservation of our nature. For the Europeans, our strategy to promote eco tourism and culture fits in well.
eTN: And when you look at the MICE market, I know Singapore is quite aggressive, and so is Thailand. Even Bali is hosting a lot of major conferences. How does Malaysia fit into this concept?
AZIZ: One of Malaysia’s hotels won the best MICE hotel award in Kuala Lumpur, and certainly we are well prepared in terms of infrastructure to accommodate MICE tourists. We are, of course, behind Singapore, but the advantage that we probably have is because Singapore is a city state. After their meeting, the MICE tourists need to go somewhere. In Malaysia, we are lucky in that we have a good infrastructure, we have good results, and I must say that we have the Malaysia Prevention Exhibition Bureau, solely concentrating on the MICE market. So we are doing quite well in the MICE market, especially for medium-haul countries like China – they have a lot of exhibitions and conventions, and China is one country that has great potential, and we are getting attraction from them. They know about us, and they love our food, so when it comes to MICE, I think for a medium-haul country, I think we are doing fine.
eTN: What about cruise tourism?
AZIZ: We have three big cruise companies which come to Malaysia, along with Singapore, …, Brunei, and Phuket. We are all year round, and it is certainly one of the biggest tourist sectors for Malaysia.
eTN: Thank you very much for your time, and wishing you good success.
AZIZ: Thank you.
Tourism Malaysia, formerly known as the “Tourist Development Corporation of Malaysia (TDC)”, was established on 10 August 1972. It was then under the former Ministry of Trade and Industry.
On 20 May 1987, the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism (MOCAT) was established and TDC moved to this new ministry. TDC existed from 1972 to 1992, when it became the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB), through the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board Act of 1992.
Tourism Malaysia now has 34 overseas and 11 marketing representative offices.
Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz (born 15 May 1954) is from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).