All-out tourism drive set for next year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am

LONDONERS MIGHT remember being inundated 16 years ago by Visit Malaysia Year 1990 advertisements plastered on the sides of the city's famous red double-decker buses.

During that first campaign by the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, much of the marketing emphasis was tilted towards the west.

But times have changed. This year, people in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan can expect to see a lot of popular crooner Guang Liang on their TV screens, urging them to visit his beautiful homeland Malaysia. The singer is the newly-appointed ambassador for Visit Malaysia Year 2007.

With China now recognised as the biggest source of outbound travellers in the world, Tourism Malaysia is looking east.

According to figures from the country's 9th Malaysia Plan, Chinese arrivals are expected to surge to 1.5 million in 2010 from 623,000 last year.

Already, Malaysia has opened five regional tourism offices in various cities in China. Tourism Malaysia is also focusing on other countries.

In the past seven months, high-level tourism delegations from Malaysia have visited Hong Kong, Thailand and India, as well as Iran, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.

Several of these missions were led by Tourism Minister Adnan Mansor.

Middle East tourists, who have been increasingly shying away from the west since the events of September 11, 2001, are finding Malaysia, with its halal food and Islamic customs, a friendly and welcoming destination.

And Malaysia has responded by launching a 'Feel at Home' programme for visitors from the Middle East.

The programme includes use of the Arabic language for public announcements at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the creation of a permanent area in downtown Kuala Lumpur, known as Arab Street, where visitors can find Middle Eastern food and culture.

Next year's Visit Malaysia Year, only the third since the promotion concept was introduced in 1990, is expected to attract more than 20 million visitors, up from 16.4 million last year.

The next Visit Malaysia Year campaign holds a special meaning for the country because 2007 is also the year of Malaysia's golden jubilee as an independent nation.

It was 50 years ago, in 1957, that the country's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, led a free nation with the jubilant shouts of 'Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka'.

The campaign would be designed to showcase a modern Malaysia to the world, said Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

'Modern' includes world-class health, medical and educational facilities, all strong points for selling Malaysia as a destination for medical and educational tourism. Together with eco-tourism, adventure tourism, sports tourism, marine tourism and plain old vanilla tourism, the government is targeting for tourist spending to increase from M$31 billion (HK$65.5 billion) last year to M$59.4 billion in 2010.

Before the launch of the 2007 plan, the Tourism Ministry initiated a 'Malaysia Welcomes the World' programme to educate Malaysians, especially those in the transport sector and government departments, on how to treat tourists so they would return.

Sheer diversity awaits the visitor to Malaysia.

Try to do all or at least some of the following: visit the Petronas Twin Towers, one of the world's tallest buildings, and enjoy a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur; relax on beaches around the country; take a trishaw ride along the Penang heritage trail; trek through some of the world's oldest rainforests in national parks such as Taman Negara, Mulu National Park and Mount Kinabalu Park; and, of course, sample the wide-ranging local cuisine and shop in upmarket malls in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

There is a bit of everything here for everyone.