President of KL Tourism Association (KLTA)

Besides his current position, Farouk Nurish is a group executive director of the PETRA Group, a diversified, international conglomerate headquartered in Kuala Lumpur (KL). An entrepreneur since 1995, he founded and helmed the KL-based marketing communications firm Ablemen Communications Sdn Bhd, strategising and running integrated marketing communications campaigns for local and international brands, including to promote KL and Malaysia as tourist destinations. He also actively speaks at seminars and conferences on topics of branding and marketing. Over the years, he has ventured into other industries, including healthcare, sports entertainment, defence as well as information, communications and technology.

Your term as KLTA president will be ending in 2022. Are you running for a second-term?
My team and I were elected to office at end-December 2020 after a delay of six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, thus reducing our term to 18 months instead of the usual 24 months as per KLTA’s constitution. Most of which were spent in and out of lockdowns and at a time when travel restrictions were very much in place. At KLTA’s upcoming annual general meeting, which will be held sometime in the later part of June or early July, I will probably run for another term in order to make some meaningful contributions while in office.

As the oldest tourism industry organisation, how many members does KLTA have now given that the pandemic has severely impacted many industries.
Before the pandemic, we had around 120 organisations from various tourism-related industries as members. That number has dwindled to just under 30 members now. Its constitution requires that members be in good standing for their membership to not be automatically terminated. Many of them found it hard to commit to their membership fees, albeit not a very large amount. This clearly illustrates the challenges most are facing at the moment.

Please share the plans KLTA has drawn up to ensure the growth and survival of its membership post- pandemic.
For the time being, our focus is not so much on membership growth per se. The industry is bleeding. While international travel is now opening, a full recovery will not happen overnight. Many of our members have simply ceased to exist due to the pandemic. Having no business nor income for the past two years has taken its toll on the industry players. To increase our membership, we will need to focus on recovery efforts in the industry as a whole.

As KLTA becomes more active in implementing key strategies for industry recovery and starts showing some results for those efforts, I believe our membership will become more attractive. The initiatives we are currently planning are member-centric. Joining our association, the members will be able to reap greater benefits directly.

One of our major initiatives is the launch of the Visit KL Digital platform which will provide for our members a digital presence and opportunity to reach both domestic and international tourists with their offerings. We will then run an extensive advertising and promotion campaign to drive traffic to the website. We will also be partnering with a local online travel agent to provide a last mile online booking facility for vendors who may not already have such a facility in place. I encourage all tourism product and service providers in KL to join this initiative so that we can have a wider offering on this platform.

Does Malaysia have what it takes to recapture a sizable portion of the international tourist market now that our borders have reopened, and the travel restrictions eased?
If not, what do you propose? While the pandemic has bruised our industry in many ways, this is a global problem. Many of the challenges we face are not exclusive to us. The region is affected in the same manner. What is key though is how we, as an industry, react towards this global catastrophe and what we do to pave the way out of this situation.

Does Malaysia have what it takes?
Absolutely! What we need to do is put our hearts and minds to it. We mean every stakeholder, including both the industry players and the government. With a level playing field, the competition is going to get intense as the neighbouring destinations start campaigning for their share of the foreign tourist market.

Malaysia needs to be aggressive again in attracting tourist numbers. We must showcase what we have to offer and ensure that we position ourselves as the preferred destination for the right reasons. Industry players need to think out of the box in creating new and exciting tourism experiences that will help differentiate KL’s uniqueness as a destination.

As we continue to build trust and confidence among travellers, be it domestic, regional or international, what more can we do to convince them to come to our country?
We need to engage with them besides convincing them that KL and Malaysia hold for them experiences they have been looking for. Whether it is sightseeing, outdoor adventures in nature or retail therapy, we have what they are looking for and more. This must be communicated effectively.

Our engagement with tourists and potential ones must also be strategic to be effective. We need to speak to them in the language that excites them. I do not mean literally but in a tone and manner that resonate with how they think and their world view. We must be able to talk to today’s generation of travellers whether they are frequent independent travellers or business event delegates.

We need to reach out to them on the correct platforms that they are comfortable with and make that impression in their environment while ensuring the right message is imparted. Additionally, we absolutely must have multiple offerings. When it comes to tourism there simply cannot be a one size fits all approach.

In today’s highly personalised world, we must be able to provide bespoke experiences. Our tourism players must be able to anticipate the needs of the modern tourists and always strive to offer more. To do this, we require a clear understanding of the new norms and what it means to travel in the post-Covid world. There must be a real appreciation of the trends and habits of today’s travellers.

In the reset for KL, what should be done to ensure that it is a top-of- mind destination?
The silver lining that has come with the pandemic is the opportunity to re-invent ourselves. It is the ideal opportunity for KL to look at what it stands for in the larger picture of global tourism. The city needs to define itself in the context of being an international destination. We cannot simply look at matching what the competition is offering. We need to be unique. We cannot do what we were doing five years ago and expect to get the same results today. The world has changed in so many ways.

Amid the challenging economic environment, surge in oil prices and increasing inflation, what sort of aid do you expect from the government to help prop up the tourism sector?
Propping up the tourism industry would be a stop-gap measure. The easiest way to ensure the industry’s survival is to not allow the key players to go out of business by offering them moratoriums and financial assistance either through grants and/or soft loans. This is just “first aid”. Once the wounds have stopped bleeding, the government needs to work with the industry players to start the healing process that would eventually lead to growth.

There are so many more aspects to running a tourism business than mere cashflow. Human resource is an example. Without sufficient manpower, many of our tourism service providers simply cannot operate. It is encouraging to know that the honorable Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture recognised this and is working to remedy the situation with the other relevant ministries.

How do you view our current limited air connectivity and seat capacity as our tourism industry starts to gain traction?
It has been said before that connectivity is key to Malaysia’s tourism recovery. However, I feel it is a chicken and egg situation. We will not have enough passengers to warrant more flights if we do not create an interest to want to visit KL or Malaysia. We cannot build a vibrant tourism industry with unique offerings if there is no critical mass of arrivals to substantiate such industry development. There must be simultaneous development on all fronts for there to be real growth. An aggressive campaign that attracts tourists and visitors will lead to more demand and bookings, which will warrant an increase in flights.

What do you see as major travel trends that will shape our tourism and or/aviation industry? Sustainable tourism and eco-friendly travel. One of the things that the pandemic seemed to accelerate is the awareness of environmental issues. Images of wildlife such as otters, birds and dolphins returning to the rivers in cities around the world have made it clear that our environment is indeed savable with the minimal efforts by just staying at home for a few months.

The clearing of smog and haze in many urban areas too has not only shown us the possibilities but also given us hope. This has resonated with many, especially the younger generation. Travellers today and more so of tomorrow will be looking for environmentally conscientious offerings when it comes to travel.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind during your term as president?
As this is a very crucial time for the tourism sector of KL, I hope the long-term initiatives launched during my term will continue to contribute towards the growth and development of the industry and subsequently the association. I would rather be known for the impact my service as president has had on the industry than just being a Covid-time president.

Work apart, what are your hobbies?
I am passionate about our oceans and am an avid scuba diver. The pandemic, however, has kept me too long on dry land. In the last eight months, I have been travelling frequently to the United Kingdom and India for business. What I would really like to do is a trip to Raja Ampat for the beautiful marine life and seascapes.

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