Malaysia remains a popular tourism hub for Arab travellers

Middle East travellers contributed the highest tourist spending and the longest average length of stay before the pandemic 


STRATEGICALLY located at the heart of Asean, Malaysia continues to be an attractive and popular destination for tourists from the Middle East due to its Islamic environment. 

According to Malaysian Tourist Guides Council (MTGC) president Jimmy Leong, Arab tourists have consistently accounted for the largest number of arrivals to the country, followed by those from China. 

He added that since the reopening of borders in April last year, there is a growth in terms of Arab travellers coming back to Malaysia, holidaying and spending as much as they did before the pandemic. 

“The Middle-Eastern market has always been a market that can be further exploited as its populace in that entire region is enormous. 

“With such a large market and variegated socio-economic levels, there is spending capacity and a great potential for Malaysia to tap into them,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Leong noted that commonalities in practices of their faith with Malaysian Muslims certainly put the country in a more advantageous mode to attract them here. 

However, he said, as they are moderate in practices, Malaysia therefore needs to reflect on its flexibility when handling and hosting them. 

He also highlighted that our Muslim- friendly training programmes continue to play a big role in terms of understanding the needs of Arab travellers. 

Meanwhile, an inbound tour operator told TMR that Arab tourists continue to choose Malaysia as their top holiday destination after the pandemic. 

He said travellers from the Middle East come to Malaysia mostly for a vacation with their spouse and children, and most of them were visiting for the second or third time. 

“Usually, the average length of stay for Arab travellers in Malaysia is from three to 10 nights. 

“They are mostly engaged in exploring Malaysian cuisines, sightseeing activities, visiting interesting places such as theme parks and beaches, as well as shopping, particularly luxury items,” he noted. 

According to the tour operator, the ability to communicate and understand the Arabic language among tour guides and hotel personnel also has a profound effect on their fondness for Malaysia.
As such, he said, a strong relationship 

between the governments, local authorities, private agencies, tour and hotel operators should be encouraged to capture a larger share of this market segment. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), in 2021, the number of international visitors to Malaysia from the Middle East amounted to approximately 4,000. 

The decline in international arrivals was attributed to the travel restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, prior to the pandemic in 2019, Malaysia received 397,726 tourists from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was Malaysia’s top market, accounting for 121,444 tourists and more than 30% of arrivals compared to the West Asian and North African regions, an 8.2% increase over the previous year. 

Tourism Malaysia had recently launched its booth at the Jeddah International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (JTTX11) 2023 in Saudi to promote Malaysia as a preferred tourist destination to the travel industry players in the Middle East. 

JTTX is the leading international travel exhibition in Saudi, held annually, which aims to connect international travel business to the Saudi travel market, which is considered one of the fastest-growing markets in the world now. 

Each year, JTTX brings together local key travel leaders and international exhibitors to establish new relations, as well as strengthen and develop existing business partnerships. 

JTTX11 marked Tourism Malaysia’s third time participating in the event since 2020, leading a delegation of Malaysian industry players. Among the Malaysian organisations involved in the exhibition were Universal Holidays Travel, GR Travel & Tours, Onthego Travel Tours, Grand Ion Delemen Hotel, IOI Cluster Hotels, Ancasa Hotels & Resorts, Pan Pacific Hotel Group Malaysia and AirAsia X. 

According to Tourism Malaysia, during the event, Malaysia highlighted its stunning natural environment, exciting array of cultural adventures and global reputation as a safe, family-friendly destination that caters especially to the Middle Eastern market. 

Participants at JTTX11 also featured city highlights such as Kuala Lumpur, Genting Highlands and Selangor, focusing on the best shopping outlets, theme parks, honeymoon and luxury holidays. 

The Middle East is seen as a key market for the country. Malaysia maintained its position as the preferred destination for Muslim travellers according to MasterCard-Cresent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2022. 

The country was named the “Top Muslim-Friendly Destination of the Year (OIC)” at the Halal Travel Awards in Singapore in June 2022. The ranking was based on an annual online survey covering several criteria, including the availability of halal food, access to prayer facilities and Muslim-friendly services in hotels, and the overall safety and security of each destination. 

Last year, Tourism Malaysia organised a series of roadshows in Saudi Arabia (the cities of Dammam, Riyadh, and Jeddah) to woo international tourists to Malaysia in conjunction with the country’s border reopening on April 1, 2022. The mission was to attract more international tourists, newcomers and regulars alike, to further boost the economy for a strong rebound in the tourism industry. 

According to Tourism Malaysia, the Middle East’s market contributed the highest per capita expenditure in terms of tourist spending reaching RM11,660 (US$2,673) and the longest average length of stay (10.8 nights) before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It noted that the roadshow provided the platform for networking with travel trade partners and the opportunity to develop new sales partnerships, besides providing product updates on Malaysia, including the Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park, the world’s second-tallest skyscraper Merdeka 118 and the Sunway Resort in Kuala Lumpur. 

Tourism Malaysia chairman Datuk Ramlan Ibrahim said Malaysia’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has long been amicable and the roadshow aimed to promote Malaysia as a top-of-mind tourist destination for the Middle East market. 

He noted that not only Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are well connected with direct flights via Saudia and Malaysia Airlines, but Malaysia is also a safe and family-friendly holiday destination plus a shopping heaven and halal food paradise. 

Tourism Malaysia is continuously working to boost inbound tourism to a greater height in the hope of achieving 15.6 million international tourist arrivals with RM47.6 billion in tourism receipts for 2023.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition