Sulaiman Suip, Director, North & East India operations, Tourism Malaysia expressed hope that the shortfall in numbers from India in the recent months, after a tweak in visa regulations, was going to be a temporary setback. In an interview with TF, he detailed how the tourism board was going to channel its focus on introducing new products and destinations in the Indian market to regain its foothold. Excerpts:
In your second innings here, what are some of the top priorities that you have? What are some of the priorities of the Malaysian tourism?
Beside awareness, because of the competition we have in this market, we would like to push and try to resolve issues of the entry formalities to Malaysia as these formalities are dampening the awareness and the demand from the market.
What are your expectations now, ease in travel?
Yes. We will try to resolve this issue to ease out travel. You know…it is a win-win situation for both parties. Neither we want to compromise on the security part and, again, we also want to have tourists. So, there must be a way in-between to resolve these things.
Second is the awareness of Malaysia (as a destination). We have not been aggressively promoting ourselves in this market, so we will try to do a lot more promotion, especially joint promotions with our counterpart agents to attract some of the associations to come back and have a conference or convention in Malaysia. We have not had that in a long time. So, in order to strengthen and create more awareness for people to come back and see what Malaysia has to offer.
If you mention ASEAN, with all due respect to every country in the region, Malaysia has much to offer in the ASEAN region. The Malaysian tourism product is extremely diversified. Now how about promoting some of the lesser known, or lesser emphasized destinations?
Apart from the traditional things we are promoting, like Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, we are now moving into new products like Legoland we have in Johor; The Johor Premium outlet that we have there. It is not similar to the rest of what you have, around the world, but this outlet is specifically operated by the brands itself. That is what makes it special. Now there is a new product coming in Ipoh – the Malaysian Animation Park studio – which is coming up by the first quarter, in March, it is opening its door. So, we are focussing back on the Lost World of Tambun. The place is there, but unfortunately no awareness is created. The distance between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh is getting shorter because we have trip services, connecting the two and cutting the time needed by half. Transportation is not an issue. We have the best resorts in the world. We have one of the most luxurious spas one can have – The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat. So, there are a lot of the new places that we are trying to put back and introduce to the Indian market. They have been asking for new products. These are the new products that we are introducing.
How is the MICE market doing?
We are not into the MICE so much, because it is overseen by our counterpart, MYSEC (Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau). So, we are more concentrated on the leisure market.
What about luxury (market) out of India, because you have a whole lot of luxury products, particularly for spas and wellness?
We have a lot of them. Yes, and also on medical tourism and educational tourism. We are promoting all these slowly. It is one of the best country for medical tourism. Each country has their own speciality. Thailand has certain areas, whereas Malaysia has certain areas. We have one of the best heart hospitals for doing open-heart surgeries in Malaysia. Our National Institute is the best; we have some of the best specialists there. It is the best. And then we have some of the best hospitals in the world.
Any specific plans for mounting some more aggression in the leisure segment of the Indian market?
I look after the north and east part of the Indian market. Travellers from Delhi and other northern areas prefer more of beaches and such like – the mountains, beaches and nature. Whereas the Mumbai area is more into shopping and entertainment; southern part is more into leisure. We are working aggressively at promoting Malaysia and hope to make some announcements in the near future.
How did the numbers do in 2016?
For 2016, we do not have a complete figure yet. Till October we did not have a positive one, but not by that much. September was recorded at -6.7% as compared to 2015. Hopefully, by 2017 with aggressive campaigns, we should be able to surpass what we have achieved in 2015.