Malaysia Truly Asia – What Next?

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It would be no exaggeration to say that the “Malaysia Truly Asia” tagline has become embedded in the public’s consciousness and proven to be effective as part of Tourism Malaysia’s marketing campaign. However it is easy to forget that the tagline, catchy though it still is, was launched more than 10 years ago.

With the recent launch of the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Promotional Campaign by the Prime Minister himself, it is timely to consider the relevance of the “Malaysia Truly Asia” tagline in today’s environment and to look at the challenges travel agencies face. The Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Promotional Campaign was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Malaysia on 18-20 January 2013.

When the tagline and promotional campaign was first launched over a decade ago, it was the country’s first major effort at developing the tourism industry in a concerted and strategic manner. After focusing on the commodities, manufacturing and industrial sectors, the services sector including tourism had to be developed in order for the nation to continue to grow. Essentially the tourism sector was starting from a low base, and there was nowhere else to go but up.

Some 10 years later the travel trade has undergone dramatic changes and in comparison to what it was. A major change has been the introduction of budget carriers. Travel is now more affordable and customers have the luxury of choice. Legacy and national carriers are forced to revise their business models to meet the competition head on. In the meantime tour operators too have to relook at their business as airlines gradually phase out payment of commissions and distribution shifts from brick and mortar to online channels.

In response to these changes tour operators acknowledge the importance of working with governmental bodies to ensure a win-win outcome for all stakeholders. However there is a sense that more effort should be made on planning over the long term with an approach that is holistic and strategic. This would include creating and offering financial incentives for the development of fresh tourism products as well as improving the skills and knowledge of tourism front line personnel such as tour guides.

Whilst Malaysia has become a tourist destination of choice within ASEAN, China and India, achieving the same status in the developed markets is still a challenge.  According to Akil Yusof, Group Managing Director of Triways Travel Network (Triways), the reality is that Malaysia is still less well known in the developed markets of Europe and North America. This is so despite exposure gained from the yearly Formula 1 race and the international golf tournaments organised. This begs the question of whether more can be done to raise Malaysia’s profile in those markets.

Much has been achieved in recent times, most notably Kuala Lumpur has been ranked fourth best shopping destination in the world. However shopping is just part of the travel experience. Is shopping to be the unique selling proposition (USP) that Malaysia has to offer or should the USP be Malaysia’s cultural diversity as alluded to by the “Malaysia Truly Asia” tagline? What can make Malaysia stand out against its regional competitors?

A sharp edge is surely needed as tour operators in Malaysia, instead of catering to growing business, find themselves concentrating on retaining existing clientele through repeat business. There is a feeling among tour operators that the growth which they desire can be best achieved by creating demand in carefully selected markets. One such possibility is attracting high spending travelers. However Akil is of the opinion that there is a lack of premium tourism products in Malaysia to attract such customers who would demand utter luxury, exclusivity and privacy. Destinations in Thailand and Bali are already established at meeting such exacting demands.

A low hanging fruit in this quest to grow the tourism market is to attract more travelers from the Middle Eastern region – touted as a major market for inbound tourism into Malaysia. A boost to these efforts came recently when Malaysia was chosen as the most “halal” friendly destination in an international survey.

But a change in strategy is required here, caused by the timing of Ramadhan. The focus thus far has been to market Malaysia as the ideal holiday destination during the scorching Middle East summer months between June and August. This has proven a successful strategy particularly post 9/11. However commencing three years ago, and for a number of years to come, the summer months will coincide with Ramadhan when Muslims prefer not to travel. Operators are now calling for the marketing focus to shift gears by attracting Middle East tourists throughout the year. The question to be asked is: “Is Tourism Malaysia leading this effort together with the tour operators?”

In Part 2 next tues: Tourism planning still done in silos and a travel operator ponders the benefit of having Datuk Jimmy Choo as Tourism Ambassador.

A lawyer by training, Shahjanaz Kamaruddin is taking a sabbatical from a listed company in the hospitality sector.

 

Photo Flickr: User tclee9300y

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