Malaysia tour operators strive to capture domestic market

With borders still shut to international travellers, tourism players in Malaysia have had to shift their focus to the domestic market – and that switch has come with its own set of challenges.

Travel agents whom TTG Asia interviewed said that demand from the domestic market has picked up slightly earlier this month as compared to June, but still remains low.

Tourists wearing face masks while visiting the Batu Caves in Malaysia amid the pandemic

Suka Travel and Tours general manager, Adam Kamal, explained that demand in June was slow as the priority of travellers then was to travel back to their hometowns to visit family, relatives and friends, with the lifting of interstate travel on June 10.

And with local students returning to schools from July 15, he expected demand for travel in the coming weeks to remain low and to pick up only during the short mid-semester school holidays in August.

Adam shared that Suka Travel & Tours, originally an outbound travel agency, has expanded into the domestic travel segment to stay afloat. He quipped: “We have tapped into our existing client base of travellers who used to go on outbound tours, but are now opting for domestic tours, with the closure of the border.

“Our target are high-end family travellers, who are cash-rich but time-poor, and depend on us to sell them all-inclusive travel packages. We sell destinations that are not reachable by land from the Klang Valley, such as Langkawi, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, Semporna, and Kuching.”

Sunflower Holidays managing director, Mint Leong, who is big in the China and South-east Asia inbound markets, said that FIT domestic travellers tend to bypass agents and make their own travel arrangements directly with product owners, as compared to inbound travellers.

As such, Leong said that to capture the domestic business, “we sell off-the-beaten-track destinations or places that are not well promoted locally, and which are also not easily accessible, such as Sirip Biru Mangrove Trail in Sepang and homestay products in Selangor which appeals to young people living in big cities”.

He added: “We are also giving suggestions to the local council in Sepang on what needs to be done to make the mangrove trail (more accessible) to foreign inbound markets such as developing… basic infrastructure.”

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners secretary, Anthony Wong, shared that in general, hotels in destinations that used to depend on international tourists such as Langkawi, Penang and Kota Kinabalu were not faring as well as hotels in Kuantan, Melaka and Cameron Highlands, which were easily reachable by road from the Klang Valley, as domestic travellers tend to choose to drive to get to their holiday destinations.

He said: “Due to low occupancies, many hotels have brought down their rates to make it more affordable to the domestic market. Some five-star hotel brands that used to sell for RM800 (US$187) to RM1,500 are now selling for very low rates of RM300 to RM500.”

Wong urged the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to strategise ways of boosting domestic travel nationwide, especially on weekdays where occupancies are lower.

He elaborated: “What the government can do is to introduce a tax incentive to corporate companies in Malaysia for employees to stay in locally registered accommodations.

“Corporate companies can also do their part to boost domestic tourism by giving greater flexibility to their staff to take leave to go on holidays away from the peak travel periods, such as school holidays and long weekend breaks.”

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