Arab Tourists Flock To Malaysia After SARS Defeated

By Kazi Mahmood, IOL Southeast Asia Correspondent
Reports indicate show tourism picking up in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 ( - Arab tourists, mostly families, are flocking to Malaysia in large numbers after the SARS was defeated in the country and fears of terror attacks remained unfounded, turning Malaysia into their favorite South East Asia destination.
Tourist arrivals in Malaysia slowed down due to the effects of the SARS but picked up smoothly after the announcement that the country was not a hot spot.
Flight disruptions from certain African destinations however pinned down arrivals from North Africa, Sani Bahadur who runs a travel agency in Kuala Lumpur told Saturday, July 5.
“I am not sure of the figures for this year but I can say that 2003 will record an increase in the arrival of Arab tourists, mostly of high earning income families from the Gulf,” he added.
Bahadur owns a travel agency that caters for the promotion of Malaysia as a tourist destination for Arab nationals and organizes the ground facilities for these tourists on their arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
The latest figures released by the Tourism Board of Malaysia this month indicated that around 132,000 tourists from the Arabian Gulf and Middle East countries visited Malaysia last year. There may be an increase of 20 percent in this figure this year.
Arab tourists contributed approximately U.S. $12 million in revenue in Malaysia last year, representing an average expenditure of U.S. 850.00 per head during a week to a ten days stay in the country.
The boost in arrivals of Arab tourists were obvious in Kuala Lumpur and in Langkawi, which remains the most popular destinations for these tourists, with the opening of more Arab restaurants and bistro’s in these major towns.
In Kuala Lumpur alone, several Arab nationals have opened up business providing Arab style food to the visitors.
One such restaurant, the Tarbush, has opened more than one branch in Kuala Lumpur and in Ampang where there is high concentration of Arab families.
Even the now famous Zam Zam cola drink can be seen on sale at mosques and in shopping complexes where Arab families are regularly seen praying and shopping.
One Zam Zam seller at a mosque in Ampang told IOL that the sale for the Iran made substitute to Coca Cola has picked up too.
Arab tourists are big spenders and are prized by the Malaysian tourism authorities who recently launched a road show in the Arabian Gulf countries of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Many of the tourists are attracted by the shopping experience in Malaysia, which is having monthly shopping discounts in major shopping complexes in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
One of the favorite spot for Arab nationals, the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC), attracts the tourists because of the quality of the products on sale there, an Arab tourist from Egypt told IOL.
He added that it was incredible to see Egyptian goods on sale at the Little Egypt shop at the KLCC, a company owned by Egyptians that also has branches in Ampang and Bukit Bintang.
The company also operates a cafeteria at Bukit Bintang, which is very popular among Arab families.
Tourism Malaysia is also aggressively marketing "education” and “health" tourism in the Gulf and the Middle East.
Health tourism offers huge potential to local Hospitals and Clinics while educational courses are aimed at the children of Arab nationals who usually take up short English courses or Information Technology courses in Malaysia while their parents are enjoying their holidays.
Some 13.29 million tourists came to Malaysia last year, bringing in revenue of around US$25.8 billion (RM98 billion), making Malaysia one of the favorite destination in this region.