The Jewel of Kedah is on track to achieve the target of 2.5m inbound travellers by year-end. Domestic visitors remain strong with international arrivals making a comeback, especially from the Middle East and Singapore
by AFIQ HANIF
TOURISM is a vital industry in Malaysia, with high-multiplier and far-reaching effects on the country’s economic, social and cultural development.
The industry contributes significantly to the economy by creating jobs and supporting related industries such as food, lodging and transportation.
Culturally, the tourism industry enriches and increases appreciation for local cultures, traditional dances, costumes, handicrafts and folk arts, which would lead to the expansion of local trades and businesses.
In 2021, Malaysia experienced a decline in the number of foreign tourists by 95%, impacting the livelihoods of more than three million Malaysians who depend on the tourism sector as the third largest foreign currency earner after manufacturing and palm oil industries.
Without a doubt, the easing of travel restrictions in April 2022 was a positive move, providing a lifeline to both inbound and outbound tourism.
For marketing executive Imraan Mokhtar Ihsan and his wife, spending three days in Langkawi while celebrating their third anniversary in September was an enjoyable retreat and a much-anticipated break from the hustle of work.
“It was the first time we had left the house since the government’s announcement on reopening the tourism sector. We have not yet thought of crossing the borders, only domestic first,” he said.
Nonetheless, comparing with his friends who went on holiday to Hatyai, Thailand, Imraan is shocked with his holiday expenditure which was significantly higher.
“We spent more than RM1,000 for food in Langkawi for three days while our friends in Hatyai only needed to fork out less than RM500 for almost similar food,” he said.
It is also learnt that the price of car rental rate in Langkawi has increased by approximately 10% compared to the pre-pandemic era.
“For instance, Bezza model is rented at RM90 per day now compared to Hatyai which offered only RM60 for the same period,” tweeted @Ijai.Shariff.
TikTok user @Khair.review posted a video recently that has been getting a lot of attention from netizens all over social media. The video, which has gained over 373,000 views, showed dozens of souvenir shops left empty during peak hours on weekends.
However, the reopening of Langkawi to domestic travellers in September last year, followed by the Langkawi International Travel Bubble (LITB) two months later, gave businesses a lifeline.
The Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) revealed that Langkawi has been recording an encouraging number of tourist arrivals.
CEO Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib said Langkawi has recorded over 200,000 visitors a month recently and is currently on track to achieve the target of 2.5 million inbound travellers by year-end.
“This number is a huge rise from our initial projections, with the highest number of travellers recorded during the school holidays or long weekend at 172,623,” he said.
Responding to the recent news where the tourism industry in Langkawi is still struggling and witnessing a decrease in tourist arrivals, he insisted that the number of inbound travellers on the island has been steadily increasing since the reopening of borders in April 2022.
“Some netizens have raised concerns that the expenses to travel to Langkawi are costly. However, Langkawi offers more than just food and entertainment,” Nasaruddin said.
Nasaruddin however acknowledged that some tourism facilities, such as ferry services for local tourist, need to be improved.
He added that the pandemic had impacted the dredging works and the ferry jetty which in turn has affected the availability of ferry services to and from the island.
“For this, LADA has been vigilantly working with the relevant authorities, mainly with the operators and the Malaysia Marine Department to expedite the process of clearing the passageway for more ferries to ply the route,” he said.
Concurring with Nasaruddin, Consortium Ferry Line Ventures Sdn Bhd human resources and operation manager Captain Dr Baharin Baharom said with an increase in the frequency of the ferry rides to the island, the service would be able to attract more tourists and provide a more convenient experience for all.
“Together with LADA, our hope is to increase the ferries’ frequency to and from the island — at least four trips a day from both the Kuala Kedah Ferry Terminal and Kuala Perlis Ferry Terminal on a fixed schedule from 7am to 7pm,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dash Resort Langkawi GM Effendi Ramley said the occupancy rate at the hotel was at its highest and it has been witnessing this since the implementation of the LITB initiative by the government.
“On average, our occupancy rate is at 76% and we are so thankful to see this growth since most of the local community relies heavily on tourism to survive. These promising numbers are proof that the island is recovering and we look forward to welcoming more tourists in the near future,” said Effendi.
The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi sales and marketing director Zulkifli Rahman said since the full border reopening on May 1 this year, the hotel has seen a growth in booking with an average of 10% to 15% increase month-on-month (MoM) for both leisure and corporate getaways.
“Domestic remains strong and international travellers are making a comeback, especially from the Middle East and Singapore,” Zulkifli said.
He said there has been a steady and upward impact on resort rates as it has seen an increase and demand for its villas with private pools.
“During the pandemic, there was a 50% rate drop, and now family and friends are travelling together, opting for a more intimate social gathering and bonding time. When LITB opened in November 2021, this was the choice destination for a breath of fresh air for domestic travellers as well as travellers coming into the country,” he added.
For Zulkifli, Langkawi is still Malaysians’ favourite destination as the affluent local travellers are taking more short breaks domestically and the resort has welcomed many repeating clienteles as the feeling of “coming home” with the warm Malaysian hospitality.
“We are blessed with Langkawi which is also the only Unesco heritage island in the region well known for its million-year-old rainforest, flora, fauna, scenic beauty, long stretches of white sandy beaches, breath-taking waterfalls and abundance of extraordinary wildlife, including more than 200 species of birds. Langkawi offers a wide range of experience for all ages and types of travellers,” he added.
Meanwhile, Temple Tree Resort Langkawi resort manager Irene Vairo said Langkawi stands out with its destination experiences and offerings which appeal to both local and international tourists.
“Travellers will always try out new destinations and look for new experiences. Therefore, we need to keep reinventing to come up with new experiences and offerings to remain relevant and interesting to appeal to domestic, regional and international markets,” she said.
She added the resort focuses on digital touchpoints to ensure its visibility at the right time to appeal to the interest and experiences of travellers looking for something different.
“A business traveller has different needs compared to a leisure traveller. At the same time a solo traveller has different needs compared to a family travelling together,” she said, adding that the resort is able to cater to these different types of travellers to Langkawi and actively promote the resort on social media channels to reach out to the right target markets.
“We are also working with selected organisations including wholesale market to create a louder buzz,” she said.
Vairo said she was seeing a MoM steady growth at Temple Tree Resort Langkawi and is confident that the market will recover soon, especially with the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry’s target of getting 9.2 million visitors by year-end.
“Langkawi does not only offer a great holiday destination but the availability of diverse cuisines, including halal choices, and activities to cater to different types of travellers on top of being known as a duty-free shopping haven,” she said.
On that note, Traveloka Malaysia country manager Angelica Chan mentioned that the island is still very much a favourite destination to many, Malaysians or foreigners. “Flights to Langkawi are affordable and accommodation are aplenty, ranging from budget to luxury stays,” she said.
She added that the pandemic has changed the way people travel as today’s travellers are more conscious, more responsible and want to discover and engage with the community.
“Langkawi is a destination that provides all of the above and on top of that, Langkawi is safe for travellers, particularly millennials and those travelling solo,” she said.
Enfiniti Group of Co group president and chief dream maker Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina also shared some of her thoughts on the island.
“Langkawi is one of the region’s most favourite island getaway destinations due to its eco and culture attractions.
“The lush tropical rainforest is so amazing, and its beaches and the myths and legends of Langkawi appeal to all individuals and families. Going sustainable is key for the future of tourism and the island of Langkawi has all the natural assets.
“I believe the travel and tourism industry will bounce back as strong as ever,” she said.
She revealed that Dream Forest Langkawi, Enfiniti’s latest venture into themed attraction, is slated to open during the first quarter of 2023.
“It is my way of showing optimism with regards to the recovery of the industry,” she said.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition