A 36 member delegation from Bhutan is on a study tour in Malaysia

Visit: Despite witnessing two airline tragedies last year, tourist arrivals in Malaysia recorded a growth of about 9.6 percent from the previous year and an earning of about USD 15B.

The arrivals include 2,051 Bhutanese tourists in 2014 from January to October, records with Malaysia’s tourism and culture ministry show.

Bhutanese tourists visiting Malaysia increased by almost six fold since 2013, during which time the country recorded only about 357 Bhutanese tourists.  Bhutan saw 2,029 Malaysian tourists visiting Bhutan in 2013, up from 1,307 in 2012.

The figures were shared during a meeting with the Bhutanese delegation on January 29.  The Bhutanese delegation from the tourism sector includes guides, tour operators, hoteliers, community tourism representatives and officials from the tourism council of Bhutan, association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO) and NERD.

The 36 Bhutanese are on a study tour to Malaysia to experience and learn best practice initiatives in community tourism, and the involvement of private sector in developing tourism.

“This is the first time we’re receiving Bhutanese delegation in such a huge number,” head of policy unit of the tourism policy unit, Nor Arlinda, said, during a presentation on an overview of tourism industry in Malaysia.

Executive director of ABTO, Sonam Dorji said the study tour was organised in Malaysia since it has immense experience in  community based tourism.

Nor Arlinda said Malaysia had done exceptionally well, when it came to tourism.  In terms of UNWTO ranking, Malaysia was ranked 11th in terms of arrivals, and 13th in terms of tourism receipts in 2013.

In 2013, tourist arrivals stood at 25.72M, while in 2014, from January to October 22.9M tourists visited Malaysia.  The target this year is to bring in 29.4M tourists and about USD 25B as tourist receipts.

The figures for October to December, according to tourism and culture ministry officials, are yet to be updated.  However, last year until October, the country recorded about USD 15B in earnings.

“Despite the unfortunate incidents, we’re still resilient when it comes to the tourism industry with about 9.6 percent increase in arrivals and earnings,” Nor Arlinda said. “We remain optimistic.”

Officials said, by 2020, in line with the Malaysia tourism performance plan, they have a target to bring in 36M tourists with earnings of about USD 46B.  Malaysia offers diverse products for tourism in food, affordable luxury, nature and adventure besides islands and beaches.

“We believe in diversity as our strength although we’re a multicultural country,” Nor Arlinda said, adding that was why they brand Malaysia as truly Asia.

Malaysia also adopts the best practices on sustainable tourism like Bhutan.

“Bhutan will have more to share with us when it comes to preservation and conservation of culture and heritage sites,” Nor Arlinda said. Malaysia is also ranked as the top Muslim-friendly holiday destination, while it’s the 12th most competitive economy for doing business, according to the 2013 World Bank report on “doing business.”

Malaysia retains its position as the top 10 meeting destination in Asia Pacific. “The Middle East is a major source market for Malaysia especially after the September 11 incident in the US,” an official said.

Executive director of ABTO, Sonam Dorji, also shared Bhutan’s tourism policies and spoke on Gross National Happiness as requested by the Malaysian counterparts. “We don’t have skyscrapers, huge shopping centres and multinational chains in Bhutan, but what we offer is authenticity and quality services, ensuring responsible tourism,” Sonam Dorji said. “This is why you should visit Bhutan to get the real experience that you have travelled.”

Meanwhile, ABTO initiated the study tour, which is funded by the European Union Switch Asia Programme, the largest international donor and also the strongest global advocate of sustainable development.

By Kinga Dema, Kuala Lumpur