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Malaysia ready to host ASEAN Tourism Forum

Malaysia's Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, says that the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Kuching this month will be the perfect platform for the travel industry to 'Feel the Warmth' of an increasingly integrated Southeast Asia.

The ASEAN Tourism Forum takes place in Kuching in Sarawak 16-23 January. What can delegates expect from ATF this year?

Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz – ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), an annual meeting of the ASEAN tourism industry, aims to project ASEAN as an attractive, multi-faceted single destination, to create an increased awareness of ASEAN as a highly competitive regional tourist destination in Asia Pacific, to promote intra-ASEAN travel, and to strengthen cooperation among various sectors in ASEAN tourism industry. With all 10 ASEAN member nations working hand in hand with public and private sectors, much progress has been made in growing a sustainable tourism industry in the region. ATF 2014 as in previous years comprises an ASEAN National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) Meeting, which is a preparation for the Tourism Ministers Meeting and Travex — the buyer-seller Travel Exhibition.

As part of the Travex, the ASEAN Tourism Conference (ATC) will be held on 21 January 2014 at Borneo Convention Center, Kuching, Sarawak with the theme — “ASEAN: Advancing Tourism Together”. Four speakers and topics have been identified and confirmed:
– Airline Open Sky Policy: Ms. Aireen Omar, CEO of AirAsia
– Ground Transportation: Mr. Sze Ning Sandy Yu, Advisor of COO, Bangkok Mass Transit System, Public Company Limited
– Cruise and Sea Transportation: Mr. Farriek Tawfik, Director of Carnival PLC, Singapore; and
– River-based Tourism: Mr. Xu Jing, Regional Director for the Asia and Pacific, UNWTO.

Malaysia and its host city Kuching, Sarawak, is all geared up to welcome over 1,600 delegates which includes some 150 ASEAN Tourism Ministers and officials from ASEAN Tourism Ministries, 500 ASEAN exhibitors, 500 international buyers, 100 international and local media as well as 100 tourism trade visitors to jointly promote ASEAN as an attractive tourist destinations with the tagline “Southeast Asia – Feel the Warmth”.

Sarawak is the home to the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, with a rich cultural heritage and well-preserved natural attractions. As such, I hope that delegates of ATF 2014 will make time to enjoy Malaysia’s natural attractions before or after the meetings. With 2014 being Visit Malaysia Year, many interesting events have been prepared and this would be a great time to explore all that the country has to offer.

What initiatives has Malaysia undertaken that support ASEAN tourism objectives?

M.N.b.A.A – Over the past few years, we have been promoting short-haul travel, encouraging our people to travel in a more affordable and easier way to our neighbours in ASEAN. In this respect, Malaysia has introduced the 3-2-1 Heritage Tour Package — three UNESCO heritage sites (Melaka, Penang and Borobudur) in two countries (Malaysia & Indonesia) at one price. Apart from that, as the past chair for ASEAN Product Development Working Group and lead coordinator for nature-based tourism, Malaysia has proposed the ASEAN Ecotourism Strategic Plan and it was adopted during the 38th ASEAN NTOs Meeting in July 2013. In addition, Malaysia is now in the midst of producing the Coffee Table Book — The Magical Gardens of ASEAN as part of its effort in introducing ASEAN parks and gardens to the world. As a member of UNWTO and ASEAN, Malaysia has initiated a discussion with UNWTO to provide assistance for UNWTO Project on River-based Tourism Development in ASEAN.

Also, Malaysia as Vice Chair for the ASEAN Tourism Professionals Monitoring Committee (ATPMC) and lead coordinator for the development of ASEAN Homestay Standards has played an active role in all the workshops and special meetings where it has developed a Draft for ASEAN Homestay Standard Audit Process and Design for Certification Body. The draft will be presented during the 39th ASEAN NTOs Meeting in Kuching, Malaysia.

Besides that, Malaysia as the lead coordinator for ATRM Hospitality has shared its experience and preparation for the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 and the “We Are the Host” training program for front-liners in the tourism industry to ASEAN member states.

Malaysia and all ASEAN Member States have signed the ASEAN Mutual Recognition arrangement (MRA), which will come into effect in 2015. In line with it, Malaysia has collaborated with relevant agencies in implementing the ASEAN MRA. Malaysia has also conducted an awareness program nationwide to increase the public awareness on ASEAN tourism objectives.

What ASEAN-related tourism issues does Malaysia believe need to be addressed first? Why?

M.N.b.A.A – Adopting the theme “ASEAN — Advancing Tourism Together”, the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2014 will explore the sustainable development of tourism and to look at how our tourism programs and plans can further support this initiative. In line with Malaysia’s tourism philosophy – “Tourism conserves, preserves and protects culture, heritage and mother nature”, the ATF 2014 will be a timely platform to further discuss and act on implementing innovative and sustainable initiatives that will ensure the preservation of our natural environment and heritage of this region for future generations.

Would Malaysia like to see a pan-ASEAN tourism visa? What needs to be done to achieve this?

M.N.b.A.A – We are in favour of the idea as we feel that a single visa will allow long-haul travellers to move around the region without much hassle. This can in turn help to promote intra-country/cross-border travel as we complement each other and enhance our tourism offering. In order to achieve the pan-ASEAN tourism visa, we need the support and commitment of all the relevant agencies in ASEAN Member States. As we are aware, several ASEAN Member States have already started discussions towards a common ASEAN visa. We hope to see this single visa a reality in the future.

When promoting destination Malaysia and ASEAN, to what extent has the marketing swung from long-haul to shorter-haul intra-Asian and intra-ASEAN marketing? Is this a desirable trend?

M.N.b.A.A – The marketing and promotion efforts have not switched from long-haul to shorter-haul markets. The focus is to jointly promote ASEAN as a competitive tourist destination with the brand “ASEAN Feel the Warmth”. In fact, the share of intra-ASEAN travel has reduced from 48.3% in 2009 to 46.5% in 2011. This implies that the medium-haul and long-haul markets are facing a bigger share of the increase in tourist arrivals to ASEAN. Such a trend is desirable as medium and long-haul market tourists tend to stay longer and spend more, thus increase the tourism yield of the respective ASEAN Member States.

Malaysia has had a few Visit Malaysia Years before. What will be new about Visit Malaysia Year 2014?

M.N.b.A.A – Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) was first launched in 1990 with the theme “Fascinating Malaysia. Year of Festivals”. The success of VMY 1990 has spurred another VMY in 1994 with the theme “Fascinating Malaysia. Naturally More”. The third VMY was launched in 2007 in conjunction with Malaysia’s 50th Independence Anniversary with an official theme that fitted the anniversary celebration – “Celebrating 50 Years of Nationhood”.

2014 will mark the fourth Visit Malaysia Year celebration and unlike the past themes, this time around our theme is “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia” to reflect the diversity in unity of all Malaysians. We have also chosen the Proboscis Monkey as the official Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 mascot – a rare and endangered animal found primarily in Borneo and predominantly in Sabah. The Proboscis Monkey mascot resembles everything we want to tell the world — our rich biodiversity, our enchanting wildlife, our environmental conservation efforts, and what makes our country unique and fascinating. In short, the natural beauty of Malaysia Truly Asia’s is right here for your discovery during VMY 2014.

We aspire to make Visit Malaysia Year 2014 the biggest and grandest tourism celebration with over 200 events and festivals all lined up to welcome the world. The highlights are varied, ranging from cultural events, food festivals, sports, eco-adventures, music and arts festivals, shopping, heritage trails and many more. Some of the many exciting events include the National Open Houses of major festivals, Colours of 1Malaysia, Fabulous Food 1Malaysia, Magic of the Night, three Mega Sales and the 5th Malaysia International Shoe Festival. The list also consists of Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Rainforest World Music Festival, Tropfest (the world’s biggest short film festival), Malaysia International Performing Arts Festival, Royal Belum World Drums Festival, Borneo Jazz Festival, George Town Festival, Melaka UNESCO World Heritage City Celebration, Borneo Bird Race and many more.

It is hoped that VMY 2014 will contribute to the Government’s target to receive 28 million tourist arrivals and RM76 billion in tourist receipts. The tourism industry currently employs an estimated of 14% of Malaysia’s total workforce. VMY 2014 will help set the pace to the nation’s aspiration of creating 3.3 million jobs by 2020 as outlined in the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) 2020.

What role will ASEAN as a market play in your Visit Malaysia Year 2014 plans?

M.N.b.A.A – We hope all ASEAN members can play a role by helping us disseminate information and spread the word about Visit Malaysia Year 2014 and add Malaysia into the itinerary of their travel plans. Malaysia has so much to offer during this Visit Malaysia Year 2014. We believe tourists from the ASEAN countries will also benefit from these value-added promotions. On top of that, travel agents and hoteliers from the ASEAN countries can make Malaysia as a stopover destination for the international tourists who visit other neighbouring countries to make their travel itinerary more enticing. Similarly, tourists can also plan their itinerary to travel beyond Malaysia to other ASEAN destination.

Will the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 feature any partnerships or collaborative action with airlines, tour operators or hotels?

M.N.b.A.A – Yes, all our airlines, tour operators and hoteliers are very excited about Visit Malaysia Year 2014. There will be many exclusive packages that are created specially for this celebration. VMY2014 is a national event and everyone will play a perfect host to welcome the tourists. There will be many partnerships and collaborations between all industry players to offer the best packages as well as services to make everyone feel at home. In line with the “We are the host” concept, every Malaysian will come together and put their best foot forward in making Visit Malaysia Year 2014 a big success.

What role will major events and festivals play in Visit Malaysia Year 2014?

M.N.b.A.A – Malaysia is well-known for some of the unique events such as 1Malaysia International Shoe Festival, Magic of the Night, Colours of 1Malaysia, Rainforest World Music Festival, Penang International Bridge Marathon, Fraser Hill International Bird Race, Fabulous Food 1Malaysia, Malaysia International Performing Arts Festival (MIPAC 2014), concerts, theatre musicals and many more. These major events and festivals reflect our rich cultures, traditions and strengths. They play a big role to make Visit Malaysia Year 2014 a success. Tourists come to Malaysia not just to enjoy our attractions but to engage and participate in these events and festivals.

What needs to be done to enhance cooperation in tourism among ASEAN member states?

M.N.b.A.A – To achieve ASEAN as “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” by 2015, greater steps need to be taken, among others, sharing of experience and knowledge, increasing the level of support and cross-fertilization programs within ASEAN member states.

In line with the ASEAN tagline — “Southeast Asia Feel the Warmth”, ASEAN member states should strengthen and aggressively promote ASEAN as a whole as we are connected not only geographically but also in terms of lifestyle, culture, heritage and hospitality. Besides that, we can also heighten the cooperation in the development of ASEAN tourism packages, for example, the ASEAN Food Quest, the ASEAN Heritage Odyssey or the Journey through Magical Gardens of ASEAN.Malaysia will give its full support and cooperation in activities that involve ASEAN tourism.

From the Malaysian perspective, how does the future of tourism in ASEAN look?

M.N.b.A.A – According to UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2013, Southeast Asia has the highest growth among Asian sub-regions, with 9% more arrivals, due to continued strong intra-regional demand and implementation of policies that foster intra-regional cooperation and coordination in tourism.

ASEAN countries are special in their own way. Each ASEAN country has something to offer that others don’t. Through strategic and synergistic cooperation among the ASEAN countries, we can identify, support and help one another to promote our respective countries. ASEAN countries need to work together to ensure the mutual success of the tourism industry in this region.

As Malaysia will be celebrating Visit Malaysia Year 2014, we urge all our ASEAN friends to come and support us and make this tourism celebration a success. I believe we can make it happen with the support of all our partners in the ASEAN tourism industry. The increase in tourists to Malaysia will also benefit other ASEAN countries as tourists tend to travel to more than one ASEAN country, especially tourists from medium and long-haul markets.

Photo caption: Malaysia’s Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz

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