The veritable melting pot of cultures, landscapes and peoples that is Malaysia is taking advantage of its unique position on the global tourism scene. Emily Millett discovers.
Malaysia is no stranger to the tourism spotlight, but as the destination welcomes new markets and new initiatives, the industry is looking set for further growth over the coming years.
“Malaysia is totally unique and offers great attractions,” said CEO and co-founder, Within Earth Holidays, Mustafa Alabsi. “It is an affordable destination with amazing multi-cultural harmony and very strong infrastructure. These elements make Malaysia one of the most wanted, and highest tourist retention destinations to visit in Asia. Travellers love to repeat their trip due to the rich experiences.”
And the growing popularity is evident in last year’s statistics, according to Tourism Malaysia, which reported that the destination received a total of 25,948,459 international tourists and recorded a 0.1 per cent growth in tourist receipts in 2017, thus contributing $20.6 billion to the country’s economy.
“Malaysia is a premier business and leisure destination that is complemented by its rich nature, scenic landscape, historical legacy and culinary sensations,” said Alan Pryor, general manager, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. “The country’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual melting pot of peoples, offering a kaleidoscope of unique experiences, is what entices tourists and delegates to visit Malaysia year-on-year.”
With tourism in Malaysia blossoming over recent years, the destination is not only maintaining, but further cementing its status as a hotbed of development and infrastructural innovation, with a series of new hotel openings in 2018.
Last year saw the destination’s pipeline of developments welcome The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi in November; Sheraton Petaling Jaya in October; and Hotel Sofitel Kuala Lumpur in Damansara City in August, to name a few. Earlier this year Petaling Jaya added the five-star, 300-room New World Petaling Jaya Hotel to its already impressive portfolio, while international giant Hyatt opened the 298-room Hyatt House Kuala Lumpur, Mont’ Kiara. Four Seasons, W Hotels and The Banyan Tree Group were all set to open Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, W Kuala Lumpur Hotel and Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur respectively in Q1 of 2018. The Ramada brand by Wyndham is also due to add to its Malaysian footprint with the opening of The Ramada Encore Meridin Johor Bahru.
And development is also being seen at existing facilities, with renovations, refurbishments and upgrades set to offer visitors a new and improved experience.
“We are very excited and full of anticipation as our expansion is taking shape and will be completed in mid-2019,” said Pryor of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. “Enhancing our existing world-class infrastructure, the extension will provide over 11,000m2 of additional flexible and multi-purpose space, enabling clients to comfortably grow their existing events and attract clients with larger exhibitions and international association meetings. This will also enhance our ability to accommodate more concurrent events, providing our clients with more availability and options.”
Meanwhile, G Hotel Gurney recently completed an $8.77 million makeover, unveiling a new look and new facilities, as its general manager, Michael Hanratty revealed: “The renovation included a complete, modern and fresh new look with a chic lobby, contemporary rooms, the latest amenities, trendy food and beverage outlets, and sophisticated meeting rooms. Today, the 312-room designer hotel further stamps its mark as the market leader, being an icon along the busy Gurney Drive enclave.”
Tech developments are also reshaping the Malaysian travel and tourism scene, as organisations scramble to stay ahead of the curve and keep their target audiences engaged.
“We are about to launch our new technology,” said Within Earth Holidays’ Alabsi. “For the first time in the travel industry, Within Earth Holidays has managed to create a harmony between technology and travel services by providing our travellers with a mobile application that allows them to get their automated itinerary in multiple languages and notification reminders for their next services, full guided info about the destination, along with live tracking for their drivers and big discounts on shopping, excursions, restaurants and hotels in Malaysia. This ensures that our travellers have a very unique experience. Furthermore, this technology provides our partner agents and tour operators with a very special tool to maximise their sales and to stand apart from the traditional competition.”
All this development is a direct response to the ever-growing demand from both business and leisure travellers to Malaysia, and as the interest increases, new trends are emerging across the sector, from a renewed interest in eco and sustainable tourism, to foodie pursuits gaining international renown.
“Malaysia is an eclectic playground where travel and tourism is thriving, and so is its business events sector,” chief operating officer, Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB), Amelia Roziman told TTG. “Malaysia, as a whole, is receptive to the needs of both tourists and business travellers. Then, there’s the wave of ecotourism; stemmed from the global call for consciousness towards our environment. In Sarawak, you can find this in a rather spectacular setting.”
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, a similar trend is emerging, with industry insiders seeing an increased demand from clients and attendees who want to actively interact with the communities they visit, according to Pryor, who said: “From sustainable experiences, to preserving cultural heritage, they want to give back to the local community and leave a lasting legacy.”
Under the umbrella of the facility’s four Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pillars – Culture, Education, Health and Wellbeing, and Environment – Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre has developed a series of initiatives that allow socially conscious delegates and visitors to give back to Malaysia, and in the process, create a legacy and enjoy an enriching and rewarding experience.
“There is also a greater emphasis from clients for customised experiential delivery,” explained Pryor. “Our dedicated partnership approach to event planning, smart technological solutions, understanding of the new-age client and audience, and a varied, adaptable workforce with the right expertise to drive innovation and creativity, are paramount in today’s fast-evolving industry landscape, and have made all the difference in catering to this trend.”
With business travellers also now craving immersive local experiences, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre has launched an interactive Cultural Showcase of eight Malaysian arts and crafts – batik painting, basket weaving, wood carving, songket weaving, pewter smithing, henna painting, Chinese calligraphy and gamelan – all offered to event planners of all international association meetings under its Conventions Value-Add Programme.
“The country’s business events industry continues to grow steadily, thanks to its ongoing efforts to nurture and enhance its attractive meeting and events proposition, which includes famed Malaysian hospitality, excellent accessibility and airline connectivity, world-class infrastructure, variety of accommodation, experienced and professional industry supply chains, value-for-money, ease of communication and great social programmes to leave lasting legacies, to name a few,” Pryor added.
Playing a key role in the destination’s appeal for both the business and the leisure traveller is Malaysia’s world-renowned reputation as a foodie haven, as general manager, Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar, Andrew Carlile told TTG. “The very unique feature about Malaysia is of course the multi-cultural background, traditional architecture and Landmarks. Our endless variety of excellent local food has always been a pull factor for tourists to visit Malaysia.”
With epicurean experiences proving popular amongst guests and the hotel’s grand ballroom in high demand for weddings, conferences and social and company events, F&B will strongly influence the property’s promotional activities for the second half of the year, including new dining concepts at the restaurants.
“We will also be featuring some exciting packages to showcase the local neighbourhood area of Bangsar and focusing more on a lifestyle local experience for our guests to enjoy that is uniquely Malaysian,” added Carlile.
The travel radar has long been firmly fixed on Malaysia’s continually evolving offering, but now, as development steps up a gear, new business and leisure tourism trends are helping to further influence the growth of the sector.