KUALA LUMPUR - The number of Arab tourists visiting Malaysia has more than doubled this year, according to government statistics released Tuesday, with many of them shunning traditional holidays in terror-obsessed Western countries.
Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad said there had been "a huge jump in tourist arrivals from the Middle East", with an increase of 139 percent in the first nine months of the year compared to the same period in 2003.
Arab tourists, who are an increasingly common sight in glitzy Malaysian shopping malls and resorts, explain that they have turned to this mainly-Muslim Southeast Asian nation since the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
Saudis go to Kuala Lumpur
"My wife and I decided to avoid going to Europe and America after what happened after September 11. It's difficult to get visas now anyway," said Mohamad Khalid from Saudi Arabia, during a recent visit.
Another Saudi, Nora Ali, said: "Visiting the US has become a problem. It takes a long time to get visas and I don't really want to go there anyway. I'm scared to go to a country where people are rude to us.
Mansoor Almansoori from Dubai said that "post 9/11, the US is no longer a hub for Muslims to vacation. People's attitudes are very different now, Americans are not nice to Arabs or Muslims."
Toyad did not give a figure for the number of Arab visitors so far this year, but ahead of the main summer holidays nearly 30,000 had visited in the first five months of the year.
He said Malaysia was confident of achieving its target of a total of 13.3 million tourists this year, after tourist arrivals dropped last year due to SARS and the Iraq war.
From January to September 2004, Malaysia recorded 11.7 tourist arrivals, compared to the full-year total in 2003 of about 10 million, Toyad told the official Bernama news agency.
Tourism -- the country's second largest foreign exchange earner -- grossed nearly 23 billion ringgit (6.05 billion dollars) last year.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"