Malaysian inbound operators are pinning their hopes on China as they look to counter the seasonality of the Middle Eastern market and weakening business from Europe.
The Chinese market is especially attractive to inbound operators, with 470 flights connecting China to Malaysia weekly, the most in the latter’s medium-haul network.
Malaysia Airlines launched nine new routes to China this year, covering Kuala Lumpur to Haikou, Nanjing, Fuzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing; Penang to Shenzhen and Shanghai; and Kota Kinabalu to Tianjin. AirAsia commenced its Langkawi-Shenzhen service in August. Earlier in March, AirAsia X launched daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and Wuhan.
Azizi Borhan, general manager of Safuan Travel & Holidays, who is among those eyeing China, told TTG Asia that diversification is key with South-east Asian markets not growing.
“China is a natural choice because it is a medium-haul destination with good air links, and it is among the main focus markets for Tourism Malaysia,” Azizi said, adding that his company will reach out only to the English speaking Muslim travellers from China.
Ally Bhoonee, executive director, World Avenues, said his company has diversified into China with the intention of reducing dependence on the seasonal Middle East market.
Bhoonee said: “Political tensions in the Gulf Cooperation Council and a weakened economy due to low oil prices are not in our favour. Malaysia has enjoyed a boom in arrivals since the 1990s, but the market has become saturated over the last five years. It is not as popular with the Middle East as it once was.
On the other hand, China is a year-round market that the tourism ministry is putting its resources into, and that enjoys good air access to Malaysia, he added.
To tackle China, World Avenues has hired experienced staff and trained existing ones on the requirements of Chinese tourists. Sales calls to wholesalers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou were also made this year.
Adam Kamal, CEO at Olympik Holidays, is targeting Chinese visitors to make up for the reduced longhaul business from Europe and the US, due partly to limited air access and the closure of Tourism Malaysia’s offices early this year in New York, Milan and Sweden.
Europe and the US are seasonal markets and direct flights are limited to KLM’s services from Amsterdam and Malaysia Airlines’ flights to Heathrow.
But Kamal’s foray is not without challenges. He said group series tour products face strong price competition from Chinese OTAs and Malaysian inbound players.
To help agents strengthen their Chinese business, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) is ramping up in-market efforts by leading sales missions and participating in trade events.
– reporting live from PATA Travel Mart 2017, Macau