Penang tourism works towards European comeback

Europeans on a family holiday in Georgetown, Penang. Ernest Zacharevic's 3D bicycle artwork pictured

Armed with a bigger promotional budget, Penang Global Tourism (PGT) is going after the longhaul markets from Europe, spurred in part by Qatar Airways’ four-times-weekly Penang-Doha flights which commenced in February.

The launch of flights from Doha is a significant development given the limited route options from Europe. National flag carrier Malaysia Airlines started suspending its flights to Europe from 2015 as part of a route rationalisation exercise to curb losses, which subsequently resulted in a drop in European arrivals into Malaysia, Penang included.

Europeans on a family holiday in Georgetown, Penang. Ernest Zacharevic’s 3D bicycle artwork pictured

Partly due to Qatar Airways flights to Penang, arrivals from Europe made up 10.2 per cent (23,633) of total air arrivals into the state, a significant jump from the 6.3 per cent for the same period in 2017. Besides Qatar Airways, European arrivals were also recorded from Singapore Airlines, Cathay Dragon, China Southern Airlines and China Airlines.

Ooi Chok Yan, CEO of PGT, said that based on statistics from the Immigration Department, arrivals into Penang from Eastern Europe had also grown more than 100 per cent in the first four months of 2018. A breakdown of arrivals from individual countries in Eastern Europe was not available at press time.

Ooi shared that PGT had also worked closely with Qatar Airways to raise the destination’s profile by organising fam trips for agents and the media from the UK, Spain, Norway, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden to promote its various attractions including heritage, cuisine, nature and beaches.

He said: “We have enough products in Penang to cater for both the middle class and luxury tourists looking for unique, quality experiences. The average stay of European tourists to Penang is between four to seven days.”

Ooi said the state tourism bureau also collaborates with outbound agents from Europe on joint marketing campaigns to promote Penang, as well as supporting them with promotional materials.

Besides attending World Travel Market and ITB Berlin, PGT will continue to monitor arrivals for the year and work with industry players to identify new shows to participate in the future to further grow the European market.

The new Middle Eastern connection has clearly benefited Penang’s travel trade.

Lex Lam, director of sales, Discovery Overland Holidays in Malaysia, said Qatar Airways’ Doha-Penang flights have enabled his company to start their European programmes in Penang and end it in Kuala Lumpur.

He added: “We also promote Penang to Europeans as a better option to Singapore, in terms of cultural diversity, historical value and nature-based products. The joint fam programme between the airline and PGT should also include invitations to documentary and film-makers as well as bloggers as they are powerful influencers. This will help raise Penang’s profile further.”

Another inbound agent, Cherry Lee, executive director of World Express Tours, said European demand for Penang and other destinations in Malaysia showed improvement for the summer, and the upcoming winter 2018 season thanks to the new flights.

She said: “(Additional capacity from Europe) has helped us sell itineraries starting from Penang and ending in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, and vice versa.”

Lee added the authorities should be mindful of keeping ground costs competitive, as the tourism tax of RM10 (US$2.40) per room per night levied on foreign tourists already compromises price competitiveness compared to regional rivals.

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