Monday, March 17, 2003

War fears not a setback

By RENEE CHOONG AND SHARMILA THANGATHURAI

KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the war jitters, the 15th Matta International Travel Fair (MITF) drew in more than the expected number of visitors.
Over 100,000 people attended the three-day fair and seemed satisfied with the offers as could be seen from the packed exhibition booths at the Putra World Trade Centre.
MITF organising chairman Ronald Chan said he hoped the Government could provide a bigger venue to hold more booths in the next fair in October.
He said this year's exhibitors increased to 973 compared to 500 last year.
Sales for the three days touched RM150mil.
Chan said more than 300 booths were dedicated to domestic tourism which boosted awareness on local destinations.
“The big change in this year's trend is that the domestic players did very well mainly due to the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia campaign by Tourism Malaysia,” he said.
Tours to Asia, especially to Bali, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, continued to do well as Malaysians opted for safe destinations in view of the Impending war.
This year Malaysians also snapped up more cheap airfares offered by Malaysia Airlines to places such as London, Rome, Beijing, Tokyo, Auckland, Melbourne and Perth.
The tickets were sold at discounts of 35% to 50%.
The fair attracted very low interest for travel to the Middle East due to the impending war.
Even sales for umrah packages received lukewarm demand although the pilgrimage season starts from April 16.
TM Tours and Travel director Naaimah Abdullah said the confirmed seats to the Middle East countries made through her company were by intending pilgrims.
“Those who had booked tours to other Middle East countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon decided to defer the date of departure as they are waiting to see the situation in the Middle East,” she said.
Jaafar Mohamad, a visitor who was checking out the umrah packages, said he would proceed to Mecca as planned as it was a religious duty for every Muslim even in the worst of times.
“I have no fear. The impending war will not affect my decision to fly there,” he said.
Emirates Airlines country manager Alban Lee said there was a demand for travel via Dubai from those who want to perform the umrah.
“Demand is still there except that it is below our expectations,” he said.
Sri Sutra Travel spokesman Shariza Mohd Hithir said the company had lower bookings for both Middle East and umrah packages compared to last year.
Besides the Middle East destinations, countries in the Indian subcontinent also received less than favourable response.
Grandlotus Travel Agencies Sdn Bhd, which specialises in sales to India, said there was a 20% drop in sales due to the war fears and high visa application fees.