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Malaysia State of Kelantan looks to attract cruises and Bangkok air passengers

The Northern State of Kelantan in Peninsular Malaysia wants to boost its popularity among international travellers. The State has been in touch with large cruise companies to bring international ships and wants to lure the Bangkok market as air carrier Firefly is expected to open in January the route Kota Bharu-Bangkok.

BANGKOK – Kelantan remains largely a “terra incognita” for many travellers to Southeast Asia. The State on the Northeastern Coast of Peninsular Malaysia is generally known by a niche market of scuba-diving and snorkeling amateurs in transit to Perhentian Islands. Some other travellers are staying for a while in Kota Bharu on a Thailand visa-renewal trip…

However, Kelantan has far more to offer than just being a transit destination. From alL Malaysian states, Kelantan is the one following the most strictly the principles of Islam. And due to a relatively conservative way of life, it is also probably the State who managed to preserve at best an authentic Malay culture. In Kota Bharu, the State capital, old Malay palaces, historical mosques, wooden houses and traditional markets still form the heart of the city. If people are rather shy and not always comfortable to speak with foreigners, they still retain a real sense of welcome for foreign visitors.

Kelantan needs however to present a different image and attract new types of visitors. “We have a totally new team looking at tourism and we are very keen to push tourism in this part of Malaysia. Kelantan offers a great experience for travellers looking at culture, heritage, traditional activities, handicraft, religious tourism and finally eco-tourism. We are looking at two important events to widen our audience among travellers. We are now talking to large cruise ships and are working at promoting the State with the opening of a direct flight between Kota Bharu and Bangkok.”, tells Mohd Aidil Afizie Bin Daud, Director of the Kelantan office of Malaysia Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Kelantan is embracing the idea of welcoming regularly cruises on the way between Singapore and Thailand. “We discussed with Star Cruises and received recently a representative to analyze the needs of cruise liners. We will transfer passengers by small boat to Pengkalan Kulor jetty near Tak Bai in Thailand. We will also provide facilities on board for immigration. We will have our first cruise ship next April. Then we will see if there is a genuine interest for further developments”, adds Mr. Bin Daud. The cruise ship will able between 600 and 700 passengers.

Another important development for the State will be the launch on Januay 24 of a Kota Bharu-Bangkok (Don Mueang) by Firefly which will propose between three to four frequencies per week, tells the Tourism and Culture Office Director. It will be the first time that a direct flight will link Kelantan to Bangkok. “We will make in Thailand the promotion of our Buddhist temples. We record some 70 temples here, with 20 large ones mostly located in the districts of Tumpat and Pasir Mas. But we want also promote our national parks, traditional shopping and also religious tourism to the Muslim community”, says Mr. Bin Daud. Kelantan is among the few States of Malaysia encouraging religious Islamic Schools (pondok) to open to foreigners.

Meanwhile they are some issues that the State needs to solve. “We have an issue with proper transportation as well as money changer facilities at the border. We are also looking at improving the skills of workers in the tourism industry –especially regarding the use of foreign languages. We are thinking to empower young students to help travellers on a voluntary basis. And we are also training taxis to be more tourist-minded. We already trained 50 taxis over a total of 300. We will continue and probably create an emblem or logo to be sure that tourists will identify them”, tells Mohd Aidil Afizie Bin Daud.

Ultimately, it is just to be sure that tourists visiting Kelantan feel all the time relaxed to enjoy more the activities offered by the State. Especially as Tourism Malaysia recently announced that total arrivals to Kelantan (both domestic and international) should grow to six million next year, compared to 5.01 million in 2012…

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.