Qatar Airways’ new thrice-weekly flights between Doha and Penang, commencing February 6, 2018, are spurring hopes among Malaysian inbound agents of stronger European traffic to the northern region of the country.
The new service will be the first longhaul flight to Penang, an island destination that gets mostly air connections with regional destinations in South-east Asia and North Asia.
Diethelm Travel Malaysia’s managing director, Manfred Kurz, believes that the new flights are “perfect” for promoting the northern region of Malaysia, where Penang is, to the Europeans. Popular destinations in the north include Langkawi, Kedah, and the Belum Temenggor Forest Reserve in Perak state.
Speaking to TTG Asia at the recent ITB Asia 2017, Kur said: “I foresee the UK senior market will be interested in these flights due to the country’s historical links with Penang.”
As the “Germans like to move around more and tend to end their holiday with a beach stay”, Kurz predicts that an open jaw arrangement would appeal to the travellers, where they start off in Kuala Lumpur before proceeding overland to Perak (state) and onward to Penang, and leaving for Doha on the new Qatar Airways flight.
The new flights are a boon to Malaysia’s business events specialists too, opined Yap Sook Ling, managing director, Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel.
She told TTG Asia that the flights will “provide an opportunity to promote Penang for business events and to attract more international conferences”.
Arokia Das, senior manager at Luxury Tours Malaysia, agreed: “Penang is relatively new to the business events scene. Corporates and associations intending to have their event in South-east Asia will see Penang as a fresh option (due to the improved access).”
And because “Qatar Airways has a solid reputation and airfares are reasonable”, Arokia thinks it will be easier now to sell Penang to the European market.
He added: “For the leisure segment, we are looking at selling just Penang or combining Penang with East Malaysia, which has rich eco-tourism and cultural offerings.”
Longhaul buyers at ITB Asia 2017 are equally upbeat about the new air link.
Jesko Krengel, senior product manager, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore at TUI Deutschland based in Hannover, said: “Our (best selling) tours combine Singapore and Langkawi. The new flights to Penang will provide us with options in creating new itineraries for the northern region of Malaysia. Qatar Airways is known for its good service and affordability, so promoting the airlines and the new route will not be too hard.”
A new buyer to ITB Asia, Joe Calstas, director general, board member at the Institute of Journalism and Communication based in Geneva, Switzerland, said: “We are considering holding seminars related to journalism in Penang, and improved longhaul connectivity will certainly help.
“We will be meeting with the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau at ITB Asia to know more about the offerings in the state.”
Calstas shared that most of those attending his association’s events in Asia are Europeans.
But when asked if the new flights would boost Malaysia’s Middle Eastern footfalls, Ally Bhoonee, executive director at World Avenues, said he didn’t think so.
“Most Middle Eastern visitors to Malaysia are from Saudi Arabia, and in the past, many from Saudi Arabia used Qatar Airways. With the ongoing sanctions (placed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia), the new flights will only benefit Qataris and the expatriates living in Qatar,” he explained.