BERLIN, March 13 — At the just-concluded International Tourism Bourse (ITB) in Berlin, veritably a barometer that provides a reading of global tourism trends, the spotlight turned to Malaysia, particularly after the announcement of Messe Berlin, which organises the ITB, that Malaysia would be the “partner country” at the ITB Berlin in 2019.
Malaysia will get the honour to hold the “partner country” inauguration of the ITB 2019 on March 6 next year. It will also tantalise tour operators and travel agents, along with the glitterati, attending the ITB 2019 with a string of cultural events and entertainment.
“Of course, business will be uppermost in our minds,” a Kuala Lumpur tour operator remarked.
The “partner country” participation will afford Malaysia the opportunity to profile itself as an attractive tourism destination, linked with the hope that this event will attract greater tourism inflow into the country, particularly from the West.
Tourism Malaysia’s director general, Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, a seasoned veteran of the tourism sector, envisaged that Malaysia’s official ITB 2019 partner country status would provide publicity opportunities worldwide as also the potential to reach out to key decision-makers and industry leaders.
Malaysia’s tourism sector has faced, since some years, a major challenge in the absence of direct connectivity both with Europe and the US.
Malaysia Airline discontinued flying to a number of important markets in Europe and also North America a few years back.
Lufthansa, after launching a nonstop flight from Frankfurt also discontinued this service after a couple of years. As a result, attracting European tourists seeking direct connections has become challenging, even though a number of airlines offer convenient flights to Malaysia after a layover time at the national hubs in their countries.
The options for Malaysia-bound tourists from Europe lie in the services offered by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, etc.
Nevertheless, Malaysia got a break when Frankfurt-based leisure airline Condor, owned by Thomas Cook AG, launched flights to Malaysia.
Another option open to Malaysia-bound European tourists comes in the form of an additional flight announced by Qatar Airways’ chief executive Akbar Al Bakr at the ITB to Langkawi, though this will entail a layover at Doha airport. Qatar Airways has added a number of new destinations in Southeast Asia. Langkawi, with its sandy beaches and pristine waters, is a favourite destination of European tourists.
German tour operators point out that direct connectivity is the mantra that entices tourists to visit destinations of their choice.
“You can, of course, change planes to get to a destination of your choice, but the process is cumbersome and most tourists prefer to reach their destination directly without having to change planes before reaching Malaysia,” one German operator told Bernama on the condition of anonymity.
He also said that Malaysia’s tour promoters are encouraging tour operators to consider organising charter flights to Malaysia.
The UK has been Malaysia’s leading European market, followed by Germany.
According to data available from Tourism Malaysia, Europe remains an important market for Malaysia with the average European tourist spending 7.1 nights in the country. This translates well in terms of revenue spent by such tourists.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s tourism promotional budget for 2018 has been increased with the aim of creating greater international awareness of Malaysia as a destination, ahead of the Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
Malaysia hopes to attract about 36 million tourists and a revenue of RM168 billion.
International participation at the ITB 2018 was high, particularly with increased demand from Arab, Asian and South American exhibitors.
The United Arab Emirates, with Dubai taking the lead as one of the world’s best-known shopping destinations, took additional space, with Abu Dhabi doubling its exhibiting space and even the less-known Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah presented themselves on much larger exhibition space.
Vietnam took twice the space compared to the previous year. Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Taiwan had set up two-tier pavilions. “The demand for two-tier stands was never so high,” remarked David Ruetz, the head of ITB Berlin.
Malaysia can make a mark — it needs a good marketing strategy and savvy people with good communication skills, as some experts were suggesting — in the area of medical tourism which can generate good revenue for Malaysia, given the exploding costs of medical treatment in many Western countries.
India, Singapore, Thailand, etc. have already positioned themselves as medical tourism destinations.
Malaysia should take advantage of this lucrative niche market, and highlight its medical facilities and work with agencies and hospitals in the West. — Bernama