Saturday July 12, 2003

Malaysia eyes 1 mil. Japanese tourists

By Tokiko Oba (Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer)

Malaysia is seeking to double the number of Japanese visitors to the country to 1 million, Malaysian Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Paduka Abdul Kadir said.
According to the World Tourism Organization, Malaysia is currently the 16th most popular tourist destination in the world and the third in Asia, attracting about 12.7 million international visitors in 2001. In comparison, Japan ranks 35th internationally and is ninth in Asia.
However, both nations have a common goal of doubling the numbers of tourists visiting their respective countries. Japan aims to attract 10 million overseas visitors by 2010.
Abdul Kadir said increasing the figure to 1 million would not be a difficult task provided a situation similar to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, which discouraged Japanese from travelling abroad, did not occur.
In an interview with The Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo, Abdul Kadir had good reason to be bullish about achieving the goal. He was appointed to the ministerial portfolio in 1999, the year in which the Malaysian government started implementing a policy to promote tourism as a way to revitalize the domestic economy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Malaysia surged from about 252,000 in 1998 to 456,000 in 2000, according to the Malaysian Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry.
However, the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan, the Bali bombing and the Iraq war adversely affected tourism worldwide and caused the number of tourists from Japan to Malaysia to decline to about 355,000 in 2002. Meanwhile, Malaysian tourism statistics also show that the overall total of tourists from the rest of the world to Malaysia more than doubled in the last five years--from about 6.2 million in 1997 to about 13.3 million in 2002.
Behind the jump is an intensive and ongoing marketing campaign.
Abdul Kadir said the Malaysian government has been inviting about 600 travel agents and journalists from around the world to visit Malaysia every month.
He said, "It is very expensive to bring 600 people every month, but it has been worthwhile." The tourism minister added he would promote his country as a destination for school excursions, particularly those planned by Japanese schools. For example, visiting plantations in Malaysia would be educational as well as interesting, he said.
He said Malaysia was investing in improvements to tourism attractions, building theme parks, upgrading museums, developing restaurants and shopping arcades, as well as promoting ecotourism and sports tourism.
He said ecotourism introduces tourists to the country's old rain forests, and sports tourism focuses on sports enthusiasts, including golf players seeking cheap courses and auto racing fans interested in the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at a circuit south of Kuala Lumpur.
Abdul Kadir was in Japan this week as a representative of the Malaysian tourism industry to meet with travel agents. He said he was committed to "kick-starting" Malaysian tourism, which suffered a major setback following the SARS outbreak.
He emphasized that nobody had contracted SARS in Malaysia, but some Malaysians became infected with the virus while abroad.
However, the SARS figures for Malaysia were considerably lower than other popular Asian destinations such as No. 1 spot China and No. 2 destination Hong Kong.
Another purpose of his visit was to accompany and assist Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, who is in Japan to attend a symposium organized by the Japan-Malaysia Economic Association in Tokyo.
Badawi is expected to take over the helm of the Malaysian government when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad retires in November.
"As far as Malaysia is concerned, there will be no regime change," Abdul Kadir said. "It is just the change of leaders within the same government."