After Malaysia lost some key European connections last year when national carrier Malaysia Airlines cut these routes, agents in the country are finding a silver lining in niche products and secondary source markets from Europe.
“The market has been turned upside down – our main problem is losing connectivity from Frankfurt – and we can’t depend on old methods anymore,” said Uzaidi Udanis, president of Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA).
Ironman Malaysia. Credit: www.ironman.com
To convince Europeans to choose Malaysia despite the hassle of connecting flights, Uzaidi said offerings must be “niche” and go beyond “general sightseeing”. Examples, he said, are islands and beaches, the Ironman marathon (Malaysia and Japan are the only Asian countries to offer this), and for more mature markets, rainforest treks.
Ahmad Fathil Abd Ghani, manager (event and promotion), Tourism Terengganu, added: “Local content is more important to Europeans than to, say, mainland Chinese. For instance, Italians don’t like cold, hard, business-like hotels in Redang. They prefer Perhentian, where more hotels are homegrown and where they can mix with the local people.”
Fathil said there are also opportunities in markets like Hungary and Czech Republic, which enjoy connections to Kuala Lumpur operated by Turkish Airlines.
Admitting that awareness of Malaysia is lacking in these countries, he said they nonetheless warrant a serious look as some traditional markets are showing signs of plateauing. There has not been a big increase in German arrivals into Malaysia, which is now around 130,000 visitors, he said.
Uzaidi also saw “strong interest” at ITB Berlin and has secured a few groups for MITA members from Eastern Europe.
Esmadee Endut, managing director of Hedaco Travel & Tours, said: “I’m not worried about Malaysian Airlines cutting off (European) routes. People don’t mind making a transit, flying on Etihad, Qatar, Emirates, etc. A lot of my clients from France have told me they prefer and love these routes.”