SINGAPORE: The Republic is a very important market in terms of tourist arrivals and receipts for Malaysia, said Malaysian Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz on Monday (Sep 7), adding that recent political developments have not affected tourist numbers.
Speaking during a press conference at The St Regis Singapore, Mr Nazri said he was confident that more tourists from Singapore would visit their northern neighbour because of the recent depreciation in the ringgit exchange rate. Tourist arrivals from Singapore last year amounted to 13.9 million, with Singaporeans visiting Malaysia an average of four times a year, bringing a total revenue of RM22 billion (S$7.25 billion).
To keep Singaporeans coming back, Mr Nazri said, Malaysia has to “continually introduce new products”.
“If Singaporeans come four times a year, we can’t have the same attractions at these destinations,” he said. “Sabah and Sarawak are also becoming more attractive to Singaporeans.”
Some initiatives include reopening Mount Kinabalu to tourists in October, staging new festivals such as the Kinabalu Rhythm festival, and opening new theme parks such as 20th Century Fox World in Genting and Movie Animation Park Studios in Ipoh.
“With the depreciation of the ringgit, the first country that can take advantage of that is Singapore. That’s why our tourism products are tailored to meet Singaporeans’ needs,” he said.
“BERSIH IS PUBLICITY”
Recent political events such as the massive anti-government rally late last month by electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 would not dampen tourist numbers, Mr Nazri said.
“I think when it comes to the Bersih rally, it’s not a problem. It shows that we have (a) healthy democracy,” said Mr Nazri. “I don’t think (that rally) will affect tourism from the Western countries. They also have demonstrations regularly. It’s normal for them.
“We’re looking at it positively. Tourists will still come, and actually, Bersih is publicity for us.”
He said there may be a perception in the West that Malaysia is a dictatorial country. “How can that be if we allow demonstrations in the street protesting against our own Prime Minister?”
“It was done peacefully, nobody was arrested, there was no tear gas used. There was coverage of the event from Channel NewsAsia and CNN … We would have had to pay millions for that (kind of publicity), but actually it’s a positive factor for us,” he added.
Mr Nazri also said other initiatives such as Go ASEAN, a 24-hour English language travel channel that broadcasts content about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including promoting the region as a travel destination, can help tourism.
“Instead of competition among the ASEAN members, we have packages that recommend visits to neighbouring countries. We have the UNESCO Trail, where you can go to (the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in) Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore. The idea is to promote ASEAN so that people see the region as one nation,” he said.
However, he admitted that certain things could be improved, such as having enough customs and immigration officials at the checkpoints and improving the flow of traffic for tour buses. “We are always on the move to see what we can do to attract tourists,” he said. “I’m quite bullish. The end of year and Chinese New Year periods will be quite busy,” he said.
“Hopefully, nothing untoward happens — such as the Kota Kinabalu earthquake or what happened with (missing Malaysian Airlines flight) MH370. Barring this sort of disasters, I think the last few months of 2015 and 2016 will be good in terms of tourism for Malaysia. And we’re looking forward to welcoming more Singaporeans in the years to come.”