RANKED AS THE TOP DESTINATION FOR ISLAMIC TRAVEL IN THE MASTERCARD-CRESCENTRATING GLOBAL MUSLIM TRAVEL INDEX, MALAYSIA CONTINUES TO WELCOME MUSLIM TRAVELLERS WITH OPEN ARMS.

According to Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), it is estimated that in 2015, just over 20 percent of Malaysia’s inbound visitors were Muslim, contributing around MYR13.84 billion (USD3.3 billion) to the economy.

Islamic tourism is highly important for the Southeast Asian country, so much so, that in 2009 ITC was launched, a specialist advisory body that concerns matters pertaining to its namesake.

While there was a double-digit decline in the number of Middle Eastern arrivals in 2015, as stated by Tourism Malaysia, most notably from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, of which tourist figures plummeted 20.2 percent, 12.4 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively, this year is looking much more promising.

Propelled by high demand during the summer months, Faizal Iskandar Ghazali, director, sales, Middle East and Africa, Sunday Hotels & Resorts, reported a 10 percent year-on-year surge in guests from the Middle East during the season, a market which represents 25 percent of its total customer base.

Michael Schlueter, managing director, The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa elucidated that one in three of its guests originate from the Middle East, further underscoring the big role they play in the market.

HOME FROM HOME

With Muslim traveller expenditure expected to reach USD233 billion by 2020, the travel industry is already realising the value in attracting such visitors, as Pugeneswary Mudukasan, marketing communications manager, sales and marketing, Best Western Premier Genting Ion Delemen, illustrated, “[...] We realise there is a need to capitalise on the increasing number of Muslim travellers.”

For the past two years, Malaysia has been ranked as the number one destination for Islamic travellers in the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index, and with Islam as the state religion, the country is indeed set up to cater to such visitors.

This, according to Zulkifly Md Said, director general, Islamic Tourism Centre, has enabled the country to build one of the world’s most enviable infrastructures for the growth of Islamic tourism.

Nowadays, hotels are going above and beyond the provision of prayer mats, the Quran, Qibla direction in guest rooms and Halal dining options prepared in certified kitchens, to make their customers feel at home.

In an extra effort to put guests at ease, Thomas Schwall, general manager, The St. Regis Langkawi, explained that the property’s highly experienced chefs are trained in the Middle East while pool villas provide the ultimate privacy, an important characteristic for Muslim guests.

Moreover, to ensure ease of communication and welcome patrons, the hotel employs Arabic speaking staff, noted Susan Yap, director, sales and marketing, The Westin Kuala Lumpur.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM

Trade shows, such as Arabian Travel Market (ATM), are seen as valuable opportunities for Tourism Malaysia and hotels to promote their offerings.

Parveen Kumar, executive assistant manager, sales and marketing, rooms, Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, disclosed that its representatives regularly attend ATM, not only to publicise the property but to gain a better understanding of the market.

On top of traditional marketing strategies, Mudukasan underlined the importance of online approaches in order to reach out to the Middle East, noting, “[...] We are re-engineering our marketing strategy to embrace the technology [...].”

“[We need to] engage travellers more actively via digital and social media channels,” concurred Lee Meng Hong, director, communications, Lexis Hotels & Resorts Sdn Bhd.

As well as agreeing on the importance of these avenues, Mohammed Taib, area director, Dubai, Tourism Malaysia, also stressed the potential of focussing on online travel agencies.

“Middle Eastern travellers have been patronising hotels and resorts in Malaysia since the early 1990s,” revealed Ghazali, accentuating the importance of developing new offerings to continue to attract this lucrative source market.

Nevertheless, the country still has much to offer, as Kumar clarified, “The recent rating of Malaysia as the world’s fourth best shopping haven by CNN along with the recent depreciation of Malaysian Ringgit has made the country even more attractive as a must go-to destination for shopping and entertainment.”

Furthermore, Schlueter concluded that Malaysia is not only good value for money but is also considered a safe country, making it attractive for relaxation and family getaways.