AVIATION INTERVIEW WITH DATO’ DR AMMAR ABD GHAPAR
Senior Director of Domestic & Events, Tourism Malaysia
Dato’ Dr Ammar Abd Ghapar, 55, might be armed with a PhD in Hotel and Tourism Management but he does not speak like an academia having worked with Tourism Malaysia as a true bred practitioner on the ground for 33 years. Rising up to head the secretariat for Visit Malaysia 2020 before the campaign was called off earlier this year due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic while at the same time helming his current portfolio, this humble man from Melaka enthuses with passion as he shares the challenges and concerns affecting the country’s tourism industry with Airlink.
With the setbacks caused by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic to the tourism industry, you have a heavy responsibility to propel Malaysia’s domestic tourism before our borders are fully reopened. What are some of the initiatives taken to boost the sector?
One of the initiatives we are using is via webinars to disseminate information on what we are doing in terms of domestic tourism promotions not only to the public but also to key industry players such as the hoteliers, travel agents and tourist guides during the pandemic. While resort hotel rooms are almost fully booked during the weekends, city hotels are suffering.
As part of our short-term recovery plan, we recently launched special packages targeted at the nation’s 1.6 million civil servants, of which 1.4 million are members of the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services to take two- to three-days trips this year to explore tourism products within the Klang Valley to stimulate more spending within the local economy. The response has been overwhelming. We will be extending this initiative to the civil servants in other states soon.
Who are the other parties you have been working with to revitalise domestic travel?
We have been working with the private sector and corporations to boost domestic tourism, especially after 10 June when interstate travel restrictions were lifted. They include Boustead Petroleum Marketing Sdn Bhd and Petron Malaysia Refining and Marketing Sdn Bhd and Petron Malaysia Refining and Marketing Bhd respectively who run petrol service stations. We encourage Malaysians to travel across the states as part of our Cuti-cuti Malaysia promotional efforts and enter contest, for instance held by BPH.
I urge Malaysians to view it as a corporate social responsibility to themselves and the country to help resuscitate the tourism industry which has been the most badly hit by Covid-19. I would say we work with everyone involved in the industry and hope to rope in the involvement of every stakeholder to mobilise the economy, including the pensioners and Mak Kiahs.
What challenges do you foresee in promoting domestic air travel?
The results of Tourism Malaysia’s recent survey on post-movement control order domestic travel offer some insights into
some challenges besetting us. If 90.2% of the respondents feel comfortable travelling using their own transportation, this should be a signal for us that if we want the public to travel by air, the airfares should be attractive. Airlines will have to correct the high airfares to attract more passengers as only 43.1% of the respondents indicate they are confident using airline services.
Since you are also in charge of events, how do you see the events industry changing due to Covid-19?
Unlike Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), which looks more into international business events, my events team focuses on domestic and consumer events. We complement one another. Under the current circumstances, we cannot just rely on doing virtual events but need to combine with the physical ones as well as in the case of the recent hybrid event – WHOLE Penang, held at the Spice Convention Centre on the island. When you have a physical conference, the ballroom is rented out while the food and beverage and transport industries are abuzz. Most importantly, the people are gainfully employed. We certainly need to work out a balance between virtual and physical events.
Tourism Malaysia recently collaborated twice with Malaysia Airports in the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia Mini Travel Fair at KL International Airport (KLIA), which was held in conjunction with the airport operator’s KLIA Crazy Sale. Please share your strategies and thoughts about this collaboration.
The response to the packages sold exceeded our targets of RM5,000 to RM6,000 sales a day as we ended with RM30,000 to RM40,000 worth of sales daily. We had 10 exhibitors at the first travel fair, which included Malaysia Airlines, two hotels, four travel agents besides two demonstrators showcasing our handicraft and well-being services.
The event shows that airports are not just places to send people off for their flights but can also be turned into a shopping paradise when you have attractive deals and offers.
How do you think international and domestic tourism will change in the aftermath of Covid-19?
It will be very challenging for the global tourism industry as we will have to abide not only with our own government’s standard operating procedures but also those of other countries. We can expect maintenance costs for operators of hotels, theme parks and restaurants to rise with the need to observe social distancing and maintain rigorous sanitising measures.
Besides being Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Adjunct Professor, you are also the advisor for Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (MyBHA), Malaysian Association of Amusement Theme Park & Family Attractions (MAATFA), University Kuala Lumpur, Open University Malaysia’s Master Programme and lately Kolej Antarabangsa Dunia Melayu, Dunia Islam. How do these roles help you in further contributing to the tourism industry in this country?
Tourism Malaysia and UiTM recently signed a memorandum of collaboration (MoC) to not only strengthen the cooperation between us but also to address the knowledge and skills gap between the industry and academia. Additionally, the MoC will enable us to formulate strategies that will ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry.
I feel the need to contribute more besides just lecturing and am in the midst of writing a book on the consequences of Covid-19 on the industry in collaboration with UiTM. Since I am more of a practitioner, my students tell me I provide them with a very different perspective, thus making the classroom sessions more interesting as we discuss about current issues affecting the tourism industry.
Sitting on MyBHA’s advisory panel, I guide them on what they should be doing in terms of promotion and the type of packages their members can do with tour operators as it is not enough selling their rooms directly to the guests. As MAATFA advisor, I would like to highlight that theme parks serve as a good avenue to destress with their recreational activities besides being a place for family bonding.
On the personal front, how do you unwind yourself?
I enjoy meeting friends, which is also very much part of my work. Although I give priority to what I do, my family remains top on my list and I will always try to make time to spend with them.