Does Malaysia have a clear unique proposition?



In Part 2 of the article on Malaysia’s positioning as a tourism destination, the executive of a leading travel agency shares some of his concerns.

Established tour operators are looking to grow beyond their comfort zones by expanding the inbound tourism market into Malaysia. The challenge is to how to do so at minimal cost.

To this end Akil Yusof, Group Managing Director of Triways Travel Network (Triways) plans to extend their reach overseas by promoting Malaysia through their network within a worldwide alliance of travel agencies, Lufthansa City Center (LLCC), of which Triways is a member. Triways is just one of three Malaysian-based travel agencies invited to become part of the 600 member LCC operating in more than 82 countries. According to Akil, the opportunities of generating passenger numbers through this network are boundless provided the tourism products are right and the prices remain competitive.

At the same time, Malaysia’s worldwide reach will expand dramatically come 1 February 2013 when Malaysia Airlines becomes a full member of the OneWorld airline alliance. Through the combined network offered by this alliance in which British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Qantas, Japan Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Iberia are also members, the connectivity into and out of Malaysia would be strengthened as potential destinations increase to 850 in 160 countries. This will see around 9,000 departures per day operated by a combined fleet of 2,500 aircraft. The travel trade players in Malaysia should strategise jointly how best to exploit the opportunities opened up by this development. The sky is the limit, quite literally.

As a successful tour operator that has been operating for 32 years, Triways are keen to work with the Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Malaysia to drive growth of the travel trade as a whole. However they  would like to see consistent and sustainable planning over a long term rather than just on an ad hoc basis. For instance they lament that they are unaware of the benefits of having of Datuk Jimmy Choo appointed as a Tourism Ambassador.

Views are also expressed that tour operators would benefit from engaging with Government ministries and agencies in a streamlined manner in order to save time and resources. At present the tendency is for ministries and agencies to work in silos, thereby indicating there is lack of strategic planning by the Government. Related to this issue, Akil frankly states his opinion that certain Ministry officials may be motivated by self interest. This could be a case where poor governance and lack of transparency are obstacles to Malaysia improving its competitiveness in the world tourism market.

Another key challenge that must be faced head on is over the very branding of Malaysia as a tourist destination. The “Malaysia Truly Asia” tagline has to evolve to suit the times. How can it be refreshed through new ways of marketing and promotions? In terms of new markets, should the Malaysian travel trade be incentivized, financially or otherwise, to market in the yet-to-be-explored markets of Eastern Europe?

According to Akil resources have to be channeled into developing new tourism products. He cites as an example the halfhearted efforts to promote Visit Perak Year. Better training should be provided to tourism and hospitality personnel in order to enhance service levels. At the end of the day high service standards are key to distinguishing Malaysia from its competitors.  Increasing the number of tour guides proficient in languages such as French, German, Spanish or Russian would be a step in the right direction. So would improving and standardizing the taxi service not just in the Klang Valley but also at other major tourist destinations such as Penang and Malacca. 

Whether or not, “Malaysia Truly Asia” remains relevant, more thought should be given into identifying and developing the USP for Malaysia. A possible approach is to emphasise the family oriented experiences that Malaysia can offer be it shopping, beaches, ecotourism or culinary choices. Food for thought perhaps.

Shahjanaz bte. Kamaruddin is taking a sabbatical from a listed company in the hospitality sector.  Part 1 of this article ran on January 25.

Photo Flickr: User ~kinsPop~

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