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United States recession has not hit Malaysian tourism market

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Arrivals of American tourists in Malaysia went up nine percent to 220,000 in 2008 from 2007 despite the gloomy economic scenario, Salahuddin Mohd Ariffin, Vice-President and Director of Tourism Malaysia in New York said here Sunday.

More than 55 percent of the American tourists were in Malaysia for leisure, while the rest came for business, he told Bernama at the closing of the two-day “Adventures in Travel Expo.”

The outlook looks good for the immediate future for the Malaysian tourism market. Tourism Malaysia had projected 15,000 tourists to arrive from the US for January this year.

The numbers surpassed Malaysia’s expectations when the numbers came in, and showed an increase of 10 percent in January 2009 to 17,000 arrivals, compared with the same period in January 2008.

According to research by Tourism Malaysia, most of the US tourists arrive as independent tourists, with 95 percent making their bookings using the internet, while the rest went to Malaysia on travel packages using travel agents.

American tourists in Malaysia tend to be from the high-yield market, from the middle-to-upper income bracket, very conscious about price and always looking for better deals in the market, Salahuddin said.

“There is great potential to promote Malaysia using the internet, which is cheaper, more efficient, higher coverage and maximum reach all over the US,” he said.

Interest appears to be high on “green travel” in Malaysia. The Tourism Malaysia booth was well visited and the team from New York had to replenish the table with brochures, CDs and DVDs which were quickly snatched by visitors.

Norizah Abidin, Deputy Director of New York Tourism Malaysia, said the team brought to Washington six boxes of tourism material and they almost ran out on the first day.

Salahuddin said most travellers from the U.S. stay in Malaysia for about 10 nights, “which is a good long-haul market,” and they travel all over Malaysia.

“Penang remains the favourite destination for Americans, followed by Sabah, known for its diving, golfing and green tourism.”

“They seem to be attracted to nature, adventure, diving, golfing, and MICE – meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.”

Other areas of growth are Malaysia as a medical retreat and Malaysia as My Second Home programme with high interests from foreign retirees to retire in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Cameron Highlands.

“National tourism boards from other countries are projecting an uncertain outlook from February onwards, but Malaysia hopes to be able to maintain its growth or at least acquire a single digit growth from February to April.

“February is a big question mark,’ he said.

Salahuddin however believed that the economic situation in the US was temporary. “The US is still our number one trading partner and this market should not be neglected at all,” he added.

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