Malaysia keen on luring more US travelers amid challenges
By Nelson Alcantara | Jul 14, 2008
HONOLULU – (eTN) – Hawaii is a tourism success, which made it an ideal US destination for a high-level delegation of Malaysian tourism officials, headed by Malaysian Tourism Minister Azalina Othman Said, to visit. Along with the goal of promoting Malaysia to US travelers, the Malaysian delegation was keen on studying the elements behind Hawaii’s success because of the two destinations’ shared characteristics.
Malaysia’s tourism chief said, “I think Malaysia and Hawaii are both very exotic, and the weather’s kind of the same. Both destinations are known for its friendly and warm people, its beautiful setting, relaxing weather and its great hospitality.”
According to Minister Said, she was in the United States to see in person the tourism products and get a more in-depth glimpse of the American people. “My hope is to bring awareness to American travelers about our exotic and multi-cultural country, which is at once both very similar and yet very different from the US,” she said. “We’re looking to continue to promote Malaysia to become a top-of-mind destination for American travelers.”
The minister admitted that she is mindful of Malaysia’s challenges in luring US travelers. She names the fact that Malaysia, for US travelers, is a long-haul destination. “We are just too far,” said the former television talk-show host turned politician.
On Malaysia’s challenges, she also said, “Malaysia is a country that practices Islam, although our people also practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other religions openly. We are a very moderate Muslim country with very warm and friendly people and are accustomed to a mix of different people from all varieties of ethnicities, religions and cultures.”
Minister Said also feels that Malaysia, being that it is a country that is not as well-known as some of its neighbors, is a challenge. “However, we hope to change this as we are a great soft-landing for American travelers, since English is widely spoken; there’s a spectrum of different sites, events and activities for visitors; and Malaysia is a great value-for-money destination.”
As far as the skyrocketing cost of fuel is concerned, Minister Said stated, “It’s true that rising fuel prices will probably impact the price of flight tickets. However, Malaysia maintains a favorable exchange rate to the American dollar, with around 3.2 ringgits to US$1. Travelers can enjoy luxurious service at top-of-the-line hotels for $100-$200 a night, even during peak season. In Malaysia, American travelers can really go a long way with each dollar.”
The aforementioned challenges notwithstanding, Minister Said also recognized that Malaysia’s main problem with America is that Malaysia has not advertised enough. “I don’t think so it is any other issue, but I believe that if we want more Americans to come, we have to spend. We have got a lot of American products here, but it doesn’t work on that basis. China, for example, they have invested a lot to get… and I think a lot of Americans are going to China. And in China, you don’t need a visa to come to America. Malaysians still need a visa to go to America. You don’t need a visa from Japan, from Korea, from China, but you need a visa from our country. So that also indirectly or directly does also give a kind of perception.”
As far as her being assigned as the country’s tourism chief, Minister Said explained, “I think what the prime minister [Abdullah Ahmad Badawi] wanted was more younger [people] to keep on the younger market – the baby boomers – and the creativity of selling Malaysia. We go into ecotourism, and, you know, young professionals, educated young people are more into [the] environment, and these are issues that we are looking into for the government, number one; and number two, I think we are also taking into account a lot of young Malaysians were educated abroad; family and friends and marriages, a few friends in every part of the world. So this is the generation that has to sell what Malaysia is all about.”
Aside from year-round events celebrating the many facets that comprise Malaysia’s dynamic culture, up next for Malaysia is next month’s mega Independence Day celebrations.
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