Malaysia tourism thrives despite tragedies

Malaysia tourism thrives despite tragedies

Two aeroplane catastrophes put Malaysia on the map in a bad way in 2014. But they didn’t hurt the country’s tourism, and the higher visibility may even have helped: visitor numbers had their strongest growth in years.

For the past decade, Malaysia has run an elaborate campaign to market itself abroad as an ideal Asian destination, touting a multi-ethnic culture, lush rainforests and pristine beaches.

Despite the effort to internationalise, its tourism industry still relies heavily on tightly-packed neighbouring Singapore and in a renewed push the government had designated 2014 as “Visit Malaysia Year”.

So when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, it put the global spotlight on Malaysia and seemingly dealt a blow to its tourism strategy.

A double whammy came four months later when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

Tourism, however, grew at its fastest pace since 2008.

Figures for all of 2014 haven’t been released yet but the January-October data shows 22.9 million visitors, a jump of nearly 10 per cent from a year earlier. That far outpaced 2.5 per cent growth for the same period in 2013 and a 0.7 per cent rise in 2012. The full year growth rates for those two years are close to the 10-month figures.

“The bad publicity has made Malaysia more well known to the world,” said Jaya Kumar Sannadurai, vice president at Dayangti Transport and Tours.

The overall effect on visitor numbers is probably marginal but being the centre of attention “is an advantage to us in some ways”, he said.

The strong growth in tourism came despite a sharp drop in visitors from China, which had 153 nationals on Flight 370. Many in China were angered by Malaysia’s perceived mishandling of the tragedy.

The Malaysian government says satellite data showed the jet crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, but no wreckage has been found despite an exhaustive multi-nation search.

Authorities believe the plane was flown deliberately off course, but are still investigating the cause of the disappearance.

Kidnappings since April of foreigners including a Chinese fish breeder and a Chinese female tourist from a resort in Malaysia’s Sabah state in Borneo by Philippine gangs also put off tourists. All were released after ransom was paid. Sabah, a popular destination for scuba-diving and nature trails, is a short boat ride from southern Philippines, home to Muslim militants and kidnap gangs.

For January-October, Chinese tourists to Malaysia dropped by 11 per cent or some 175,000 people. It remained Malaysia’s third biggest source of visitors.

The aim of the Visit Malaysia campaign, with the endangered pot-bellied proboscis monkey as its mascot, was to lure 28 million visitors and 76 billion ringgit ($A27 bn) in spending. Tourism is already Malaysia’s second biggest earner of foreign exchange after manufactured goods.

The country might fall a little short of the 28 million visitors goal for 2014 but a high level of fully paid advance tour bookings and a quick change in marketing strategy by tourism officials helped keep the industry on a growth path overall.

Tourism Malaysia cut promotions in China and focused efforts on India and other markets after Flight 370’s disappearance, said its deputy director-general Azizan Noordin. This helped to boost growth in all markets for the first 10 months of last year, except China and Taiwan, he said.

Arrivals from India, which is the sixth biggest source of visitors for Malaysia, were up 21 per cent and the number of South Koreans visiting increased by 43 per cent. There was also strong growth from Western nations such as the United Kingdom, US, Australia and Germany.

But it was Singapore along with Indonesia and Thailand that provided the mass market numbers, together accounting for about two thirds of total visitors.

“Our Southeast Asian neighbours helped to keep the tourist numbers up. We could have done better if it wasn’t for the China market,” said Hamzah Rahmat, president of the Malaysian Tour and Travel Associations.

Other tour and travel agents said the industry also benefited from a weaker currency in the last quarter of the year, making Malaysia more attractive to foreigners. Malaysia’s ringgit depreciated by 10 per cent against the US dollar in the last four months.

Cheaper air travel and more numerous flights, primarily due to the expansion of low-cost carriers in the region, also helped drive tourism.

Since its two jet tragedies, Malaysia Airlines has lowered fares to help fill seats.

Malaysia has extended its tourism campaign, designating 2015 as “Year of Festivals” with a goal to attract 29.4 million tourists and 89 billion ringgit in total receipts.

Azizan, the tourism officials, said Tourism Malaysia is working closely with China to mount more scheduled chartered flights flying direct to the country from China’s second and third-tier cities such as Wuhan and Chengdu. He said Tourism Malaysia is confident of higher Chinese arrivals this year.

Last month, the government waived visa fees for Chinese tourists. Tour agents however, urged the government to allow two week visa-free travel for Chinese visitors to help the market recover faster.

“Regional travel is on the rise,” said Joseph Francis Mariaso say Xavier from World Discovery Travel.

“I don’t think Flight 370 is a factor. People need and want to travel. It’s more important to have the right infrastructure and pricing in place.”

Latest News

  • Aviation
  • Products

Luxury fashion house Missoni adds amenity kit to Delta One experience

Italian luxury fashion house Missoni will soon be part of the Delta One experience with a new customer amenity kit. Missoni – a brand well known for its creative use of colors and patterns – will elevate Delta One with the new amenity kit and top-of-the-line details woven into key touchpoints throughout the Delta One […]

  • Cruise

Viking Cruises special 8-day cruise rate

Viking cruises is providing a special offer on its 8-day Rhine Getaway itinerary for November 2024 departures with a strictly limited basis. The cruise takes guests out to discover the charm of old-world Europe as they sail through Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland. The itinerary includes visits the turreted fortresses, grand cathedrals, and medieval towns […]

  • Cruise

Variety Cruises launches “Sell Three, Sail Free in Tahiti” promotion for travel advisors

The family-run, small-ship cruising company, Variety Cruises, has introduced an incentive for travel advisors booking holidays on the company’s Tahiti and French Polynesia cruises. To win a free cruise for two people, the promotion requires advisors to sell three cabins on Variety itineraries in Tahiti booked by 15 September, 2024 and through to 30 April, […]

  • Cruise

Viking is gold sponsor of 2024 Saxo Scandinavian Film Festival, presented by Palace Cinemas via Val Morgan Cinema

Viking has announced it will be a gold sponsor of the 2024 Saxo Scandinavian Film Festival presented by Palace Cinemas via Val Morgan Cinema. The festival, now in its 10th year, showcases the best Nordic contemporary cinema from international film festivals including Göteborg, Cannes and Berlin. The sponsorship provides Viking with the opportunity to connect […]

  • Hotels

The Dorchester rooms and suites

The Dorchester has unveiled additional rooms and suites with a new butler program to enhance guest experience, marking another milestone in its renovation. The portfolio of the world’s foremost luxury hotels and residences, Dorchester Collection, has refurbished room interiors to continue its commitment to reinvent tradition. The Dorchester’s interiors, re-envisioned by interior design firm Pierre-Yves […]

  • Events

Bastille Festival 2024

Residents and travellers can immerse themselves in the vibrant spirit of France as Bastille Festival Sydney returns with a jam-packed program to ignite the Paris Olympic spirit. The annual four-day celebration brings the spirit of France to the heart of Sydney in honour of French Bastille Day. It commemorates two significant events in French history: […]

  • Aviation

Air Astana donates upcycled aircraft furniture to Almaty Airport

The Air Astana ‘Upcycling for the Future’ project involves the creative recycling of used aircraft parts, with furniture having been previously exhibited at various locations across Almaty since 2022.   The aim of the Air Astana project is to promote sustainability and reduce environmental impact. Air Astana Group is the largest airline group in Central […]

  • Conferences
  • Travel Agents

New Zealand’s biggest business event marks Matariki

Matariki, the Māori New Year has been celebrated at a spectacular event for MEETINGS 2024 buyers at Rotorua Airport last night (Wednesday, 19 June). RotoruaNZ Business Events and Coast Group presented a special dinner with supporting partners Rotorua Airport, Terrace Catering, Event Impressions and The Production Agency. The evening featured a stunning 12-minute light and […]

  • Tour Operators

Albatross Tours’ feeling Festive as it guarantees remaining places for Christmas 2024 tours

European tour specialists, Albatross Tours, has guaranteed every tour for Christmas 2024 is a goer. “The Albatross festive program has established itself as a real favourite for Australian travellers. We have a fabulous choice of Christmas market locations – Berlin, Dresden, Prague and Ljubljana are just a few,” managing director Shelley Poten said. The all-inclusive […]