Efforts to raise Malaysia’s tourism profile are bearing fruit, Michael Taylor writes.

According to Tourism Malaysia, 25,948,459 foreign tourists visited the Southeast Asian country in 2017, representing a 3 per cent drop over the year before. Nonetheless, the body remains confident that its goal of attracting 36 million tourists by the year 2020 can be achieved.

To put that figure in context, Thailand – Southeast Asia’s top tourist destination – attracted 35.3 million visitors in 2017.

To achieve its 36 million tourist goal, the Tourism Malaysia has launched a series of promotional strategies to raise the country’s international tourism profile.

Examples include participating in major international trade shows, leveraging accessibility and connectivity, putting more emphasis on digital marketing, and optimising the use of information technology to promote the country’s tourism industry.

According to Christopher Niuh, General Manager of One World Hotel in Kuala Lumpurthe , a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts (PHR), the strategies are already starting to bear fruit. The travel and tourism industries are displaying “exponential growth” this year, with the total number of inbound tourist arrivals expected to increase by 14.8 per cent to 29.8 million by year’s end.

“The government’s efforts have definitely impacted the country’s travel and tourism industry positively with initiatives such as Visit Malaysia 2014 and Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015, improving air connectivity primarily due to expansion of Low Cost Carriers (LCC) and development of state-of-the-art MICE infrastructures, as well as promotions of the country as a leading destination and a preferred venue for international business events, conferences and meetings,” Niuh says.

Positive initiative

Mark Willis, President – Asia Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, is equally upbeat. “From a hotel industry perspective, this initiative is positive because it is designed to boost Malaysia’s appeal as an international destination while also promoting domestic tourism,” Willis says. “If the full range of international strategies being proposed are all implemented, I would expect good results.”

The Thai-based Onyx Hospitality Group currently has one property in Malaysia, and Douglas Martell, the group’s President and CEO, believes its strategic location puts it at a distinct advantage.

“Every initiative helps, and because we are located in the border city between Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, we are in a unique ‘best of both worlds’ situation and able to appeal to the needs of both the Singapore as well as the domestic leisure, corporate and events markets,” Martell says.

Another PHR property, Weil Hotel is located in Ipoh, the capital of the central Malaysian state of Perak. The four-star hotel’s occupancy rate increased by 23 per cent last year, and the news this year is even better, with occupancy during the first half of the year already exceeding that of the entire total for 2017.

“This is largely due to our hotel’s seamless service and focus that taps on the international market as well as maintaining the local market’s loyalty,” says Michael Quah, general manager, Weil Hotel, adding that he expects a further increase in occupancy next year.

Counterproductive policy

Despite the government’s commitment to promoting Malaysia as a leisure travel destination, at least one policy appears to have been counterproductive.

A tourism tax charging foreign hotel guests a flat rate of 10 Malaysian ringit per person per night was implemented on 1 September 2017, and it has been panned by the industry.

Equal to US$2.30, the amount of money being charged doesn’t seem like much, but Niuh of One World Hotel says that it has, in fact, had a negative impact on the hotel industry, becoming one of the reasons why some large groups have decided to divert their business away from Malaysia to other destinations in Southeast Asia.

According to Alejandro Bernabé, Vice President of Operations, Avani Hotels & Resorts, however, Malaysia still holds a lot of potential for tourism. “We will continue to pursue development opportunities and, in fact, we are about to announce an Avani Hotel in Kota Kinabalu that is being developed at the moment,” Bernabé says.

Indonesia targets 20 million arrivals

Tourism is booming in Indonesia, with more than 14 million foreign tourists visiting the country in 2017, up from 9 million in 2015. Under a five-year Strategic Plan, the country hopes to attract 20 million foreign tourists in 2019.

“With the Indonesian government targeting 20 million tourist arrivals by 2019, initiatives including the promotion of ten ‘new’ destinations have been introduced,” Andre de Jong, Vice President, Operations, South East Asia and Pacific, Radisson Hotel Group, says.

“The Indonesian government’s plan to promote tourism in different parts of the country has to be applauded. Indonesia is a huge nation with a wealth of natural and cultural assets; the current concentration of visitors to such a small number of destinations – Bali, Jakarta, and Yogyakarta, etc. – is not only unsustainable, it is unnecessary.”

The U.S.-based Radisson Hotel Group already has three hotels in Indonesia, including one in Bali. It has identified the country as “a key strategic market”, with hopes of developing properties in first, second, and third tier cities throughout the archipelago.