Interview with Sulaiman Suip, Director (North & East India) Tourism Malaysia
Focus on Indian Families & Weddings
Malaysia has declared 2020 as the Visit Malaysia Year and India is a clear focus of that campaign. With a target of securing one million Indian tourists, the country has relaxed the visa regime for Indian travellers and is focusing on Indian families. It is also going beyond metros, targeting the Tier II and Tier III cities.
What are the plans under Visit Malaysia 2020 and how are you promoting it in India?
Malaysia has been one of the top destinations for Indian tourists in the past but unfortunately the competition from other markets has overshadowed us. They have been very aggressive. But now Tourism Malaysia is coming back with more aggressive campaigns, to enhance the awareness in the market and to lure more Indian tourists back to our country. That is why our government has announced Visit Malaysia 2020.
There will be special arrangements for all tourists. India, being one of the top markets, will have specially focussed attention arranged for the Indian tourists. We have liberalised our entry formalities for the Indians. A visa waiver programme that was introduced by our government last year will be extended up to the year 2020 for Indians. We are also offering one-month multiple-entry visa, which is very reasonably charged and besides that we have few other entry formalities to accommodate and facilitate more Indian tourists and visitors coming in for various purposes. The strategy is not only to target the metro cities, we are now moving to the Tier-II and-III cities, which are now better connected.
At the same time new tourism products are being developed and launched especially on the east coast and the southern part of Malaysia. We are strongly promoting the Desaru coast, an integrated resort offering world-class hospitality facilities. Desaru is believed to have the biggest wave in the world. There are numerous shopping outlets and golf courses designed by famous golfers Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. There is also Legoland, which is already being visited by many Indians and tourists from all over the world. Moving up nearer to Kuala Lumpur will be Melaka where Encore, one of the biggest show theaters is coming up and will be opening soon by May. Kuala Lumpur itself is developing very fast every day. Moving up from Kuala Lumpur is the city of Ipoh, where we have the Lost World of Tambun, The Banjaran and The Haven. The Haven is the best family resort in the world.
The most important factor is that, unlike other destinations, these facilities are very reasonably priced to encourage Indian tourists. Our star hotels can match any other services within the region. Our facilities in the five-star hotels are less than what you pay in India. For the Indians, our five-star hotels are very cheap, very reasonably priced and we are looking at the service quality all the time.
Malaysia was also strong as a MICE destination, how are you faring in Indian wedding market?
MICE, especially from India, has always been our strong area. We get big groups of 1,000 – 1,500 coming in every month. We are slowly coming into weddings. Frankly, we have not been focusing on the wedding market previously but during this year I have made a few efforts to lure the wedding planners to recommend and to introduce places. I am not saying that we don’t have Indian weddings in Malaysia, but it was not focussed, but this year we will focus very strongly.
First, we have accessibility – we have about 134 flights from all over India, offering almost 240,000 seats per month. Second, hospitality is great and cheaper than any other neighbouring country. Third, is our culture, if you have forgotten anything from India, we have all of them. Outside India, we have the biggest population of Indian diaspora. The Indian food, especially the vegetarian options, availability of Indian vendors and caterers who know the Indian customs, priests of various religions knowing all the rituals in detail – we have it all. Finally it is the value for money – you can easily do an Indian wedding within INR 50,000 – 70,000 per person for three nights and four days in Malaysia. We are trying to come up with more incentives to lure the wedding planners to come and package Malaysia as the place for Indian weddings. For example, Desaru coast has 17km of beaches that can be utilised for beach weddings.
Indian youth is also travelling abroad a lot and they have the spending capacity. Why would they choose Malaysia over other destinations?
Compared to many of our neighbours, English is widely spoken in our country. In Singapore, English is spoken but we offer the products young Indians are interested in – scuba diving, bungee jumping and other adventure and fun activities. Young Indians also love to shop and we have three shopping carnivals every year. In March, August and at the end of the year we do controlled shopping carnivals when we get a lot of Indian tourists. Another important thing is safety.
Are you looking to improve the connectivity between India and Malaysia?
At the moment only Malaysian carriers are providing the services between India and Malaysia – Malaysian Airlines, Malindo Air and Air Asia, even Air India doesn’t fly to Malaysia. We are trying very hard to persuade them to fly to Malaysia. They are flying to Singapore, Thailand, but missing out the best part of Asia, which is in the middle. I also think Indians will feel more comfortable when the local carriers will fly to Malaysia. The flying options have been fully utilised by the Malaysian side and now it is time for the Indian carriers to fly to Malaysia. Also, Kuala Lumpur plays a very critical role for the transit passengers connecting many countries – the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, US and Europe.
Are you also promoting for tourists to explore the Malaysian way of life?
We have various home stay programmes that we are promoting. The Indian tourists can stay with the local families and experience their various cultures. They can enjoy farming, fishing, rubber tapping etc. You stay with them, eat the way they eat and live like a local. It is not offered only by the Malays, local Indians and Chinese are also participating in our home stay programmes.
Are you also tapping the Indian film industry to use Malaysia as a shooting locale?
We are trying very hard to entice the Indian film producers and filmmakers to make Malaysia as their preferred filming destination. A few Indian movies have been shot there already. Famous Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rajinikanth, and Aishwarya Rai among others have been there and shot for their films. Shah Rukh Khan’s Don and Rajinikanth’s Kabali were shot in Malaysia. Apart from great shooting spots, there are great shooting incentives in place. Of every dollar spent in Malaysia on filming, 30 pc is refunded to the production company. For postproduction, we also have a state-of-the-art studio in Johor, Pinewood Studios. Hollywood movies are shot here and they offer a one-stop-shop where you can complete a film in Malaysia.
What is now the big challenge in front of Tourism Malaysia in the Indian market?
The challenge is from other destinations that are also competing. Earlier the cake was not divided between so many, but now everybody is opening the door for Indian tourists. Australia and New Zealand are promoting strongly, Indonesia is offering visa on arrival; the Philippines is trying to attract the wedding planners. Others from Middle East, US and Europe are equally being proactive. Rupee is stronger now. Apart from venturing into Indian wedding market, we are trying to reinstate Malaysia as the value-for money family holiday destination for the Indians.