UPCLOSE WITH DATO’ DR AMMAR ABD GHAPAR
Director General of Tourism Malaysia
Despite 36 years of working in Tourism Malaysia, Dato’ Dr Ammar Abd Ghapar, 58, remains passionate and loves to share his views on the industry. He does not believe in working in silo and goes all out for an integrated approach to bring all the industry players together on one stage to showcase the allures of Malaysia to the world at large. Assisting him are Tourism Malaysia’s 30 tourism offices and six representative marketing offices overseas. Appointed since April 12 to his current position, he was previously Senior Director of International Promotion (Americas/Europe/Oceania).
Please share with us your plans to take the industry to greater heights?
Among my plans is to promote Malaysia as a top destination for eco- tourism. Given the global focus on sustainable development goals, in eco-tourism, we share the same objectives on conservation as well as promoting responsible tourism and sustainability. We are not forgetting community-based tourism, which is very important in developing our local industries for the community’s benefit.
One of my main objectives is to bring more tourists to Malaysia and prop our country back to its glory when we were at our peak performance in 2019 with 26 million international arrivals and RM86 billion in tourism receipts.
Tourism Malaysia spends a large portion of its annual budget participating in various international travel shows such as the World Travel Mart, ITB Berlin and the Arabian Travel Mart (ATM). How do you measure its effectiveness and determine their return on investment?
Towards the end of each show, we give out a set of questionnaires to all our Malaysian industry partners consisting of representatives from the state tourism boards, travel associations, hoteliers, travel agencies and local airlines to gather their feedback. We also record the potential contract sales generated during the business-to-business session.
At our three-day participation at the recent ATM 2023, we generated up to RM43 million return on investment with more than RM12.8 million worth of media publicity achieved.
While our tourism industry is recovering, the players in general feel that it is not recovering fast enough as the inbound air connectivity has not returned to pre Covid-19 pandemic level. What is Tourism Malaysia doing to encourage more airlines to return to Malaysia or open new routes?
To increase air connectivity to Malaysia, Tourism Malaysia and its overseas offices will continue to work closely with international airlines through joint promotions and partnerships. At the recent 38th Seoul International Travel Fair 2023, Batik Air Malaysia was promoting its new daily Incheon-Kuala Lumpur flights at our Malaysia Pavilion.
Additionally, we signed Memorandum of Collaboration (MoC) with several international airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Saudia Airlines and Air Arabia. Tourism Malaysia also works closely with travel partners oversea to create more demand in the respective markets.
Tourism Malaysia signed two MoC with Saudia Airlines and Air Arabia at the recent ATM. Would you care to elaborate on them?
The main objective of these two strategic initiatives is to increase flight frequency to Malaysia from the main markets via Saudia Airlines and Air Arabia’s flight network from West Asia, Africa and Europe. Our aim is to create more promotional opportunities, tapping on both airlines’ connections to bring more international tourists to Malaysia. This may involve broadening the reach of our marketing campaigns to a more diverse range of products and tourist destinations beyond the confines of Kuala Lumpur.
Through the collaboration, we will leverage each other’s strengths and provide more unrivalled services and seamless connections. More joint activities will be mapped out through familiarisation trips to Malaysia, joint marketing promotional activities and joint advertising campaigns to feature Malaysia as a preferred holiday destination. Such strong partnerships will provide better efficiencies and a more comprehensive network to promote Malaysia’s tourism offerings, highlighting both our new and exclusive attractions as well as paving the way towards faster tourism recovery globally.
Under your leadership, Tourism Malaysia embarked on a number of sale missions and roadshow promotions to Bangladesh, Taiwan and the Philippines. What arrival targets are you looking at from some of these markets?
Naturally, being our short-haul market, the Southeast Asian countries are targeted to account for about 84% of our total international tourist arrivals this year. The Philippines, for instance, has always been a top 10 source market for us. More than 159,422 Filipinos visited Malaysia last year. We are targeting around 246,000 tourist arrivals from this market in 2023.
We also expect to witness a surge in arrivals from Northeast Asian countries such as China and Hong Kong, which we consider as medium-haul. We anticipate around 815,000 tourists, especially with the relaxed travel restrictions from China. Taiwan is another important market for us. Following our participation at the Taipei Tourism Expo 2023, Kaohsiung International Travel Fair and destination presentations in Tainan and Taipei in June, we look forward to welcoming more than 100,000 Taiwanese travellers to Malaysia this year. For our long-haul markets, Europe and the Americas, we are estimating around 613,000 tourist arrivals this year.
India could possibly overtake the arrivals of Chinese outbound tourists to Malaysia due to China’s slow travel recovery. What sectors of the Indian market is Tourism Malaysia focusing on? What is being done to overcome the visa issues and how is the flight connectivity?
Our overseas offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai are working closely with local travel agencies to promote the latest niche products such as shopping, amusement parks, golfing, and honeymoon packages. During our recent participation in the South Asia’s Travel & Tourism Exchange (SATTE), we also highlighted Malaysia as the destination of choice for weddings and film-induced tourism.
Malaysia recently launched a new eVISA Multiple Entry Visa facility for Indian tourists with a six-month validity and 30-day length of stay. Costing only INR1,000, it covers those on fly and cruise and coming for weddings, medical treatments and business purposes. The visa can be applied online through https://malaysiavisa.imi.gov.my/evisa/ evisa.jsp.
On domestic tourism, which is faring comparatively better than international arrivals, what are some of Tourism Malaysia’s campaigns and the contributing factors for their success?
Our Cuti-Cuti Malaysia tagline has given birth to several successful domestic campaigns such as Inilah Masanya, Cuti-Cuti Malaysia and resulted in Cuti- Cuti Malaysia packages for civil servants as well as affordable Economic Stimulus Packages 1.0 and 2.0 for the masses.
We recently kickstarted the third edition of Jom Cuti-Cuti Malaysia (JCCM) 2023 Roadshow at 1 Utama Shopping Centre involving 40 industry players comprising tour agencies, hotels and theme parks. Following the huge success of its previous two editions, which brought in record sales revenue of RM1,205,533 from the 6,020 tour packages sold, this signature event established by Tourism Malaysia since 2021 will be held in five other shopping malls nationwide until November.
The Malaysians’ travelling behaviour and purchasing power have driven domestic tourism to be a large contributor to our industry. We also work closely with Malaysia Airports at KL International Airport Terminal 1 to promote domestic tourism in Sarawak (via the Homestay Association), Terengganu since the second half of 2023 and will continue with the series with Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Perlis until December.
What are your preparations for Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2025?
Looking at increasing flight frequencies to bring in more tourists, our tourism officers will not only be talking to airlines but also the second-tier cities of major markets such as China to have more direct flights. We are also eyeing the potential of charter flights besides creating more activities for VMY 2025.
Additionally, we are reviewing the targets set for every market and monitoring closely their performance not only in terms of arrivals but also their yield. Also on our radar will be potential and emerging markets identified by my team, who are expected to enhance their networking and relationship as well with the media abroad. We will be engaging more with the private sector and associations, with one director assigned to an association.
What advice would you give to the young ones keen to enter into the tourism industry?
This is a good service-oriented industry and offers a promising future for school leavers. Tourism is very resilient and as the industry recovers, its spillover effects will benefit the other sectors as well.