Outlook a box of chocolates: Malaysia

Malaysia has dropped in terms of popularity when it comes to
groups seeking MICE destinations
Picture by paulwongkwan/123RF.co

The trade’s reaction to Malaysia’s MICE business is a mixed bag due to her prevailing economic instability, reports S Puvaneswary

Malaysia is currently reeling under the combined onslaught of a depreciating currency and sluggish economy.

On the MICE front, there are signs that the sector from China could benefit from the market turmoil. On the other hand, the recent reduction of seats between Kuala Lumpur and Delhi is hampering growth, while the strong Singapore dollar is driving MICE business elsewhere.

Operators in Malaysia handling the Chinese market are seeing strong bookings for 2016, driven by improved air links from China and visa exemptions for Chinese groups of 20 pax and more from October 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016.

Air China has also resumed four times weekly services between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur since October 25, complementing the daily services of Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia X. China Southern Airlines has also commenced thrice weekly services from Guangzhou to Kota Kinabalu since December 1.

Li Haijiao, account manager of Beijing-based Comfort MICE Service, said: “Better direct air accessibility and visa waiver for groups will definitely help to promote (Malaysia).”

Chinese MICE groups are showing a stronger interest in Malaysia thanks to the competitive prices, observed Winnie Ng, deputy general manager of Kuala Lumpur-based Pearl Holiday Travel & Tour.

She said: “With good rates and promotions from five-star hotels in the capital, many (Chinese MICE) are opting for five-star properties. We have a confirmed a booking of between 1,500 to 1,800 pax from a multilevel marketing company from China for May 2016, and another for 3,300 pax in July 2016.”

However, all is not as rosy for operators handling the Indian MICE market. Malaysia Airlines’ decision to halve frequencies of air services between Kuala Lumpur and Delhi since September 1 has resulted in a loss of MICE business to Malaysia, sources told TTGmice.

Suneet Goenka, group managing director of Red Apple Travel in Kuala Lumpur, declared the reduced frequencies “a disaster”.

He elaborated: “It is going to be difficult to get MICE business from the northern part of India where corporate companies place great value on connectivity and pricing.”

Goenka revealed that some Indian companies have already removed Malaysia from their list of preferred destinations. He also warned that reduced capacity would lead to higher airfares on the India-Malaysia sector.

Also impacted by Malaysia Airlines’ service reduction is Hidden Asia Travel & Tours in Kuala Lumpur. Its managing director, Nanda Kumar, said: “Many corporate companies in India want their staff to arrive on the same day. Due to this, we have lost a number of potential MICE businesses to other destinations.”

However, Rajendra Dhumma, director of Classic Travels & Tours, downplayed the effect. He said that the weakened ringgit is enough to keep Indian clients interested in Malaysia as it makes the country “an even more attractive destination”.

“Many companies in India have also cut spending and will opt to send employees on (cheaper) airlines like Malindo Air,” he added.

Amit Singla, managing director of Scotch & Water Innovations based in Bangalore, disagreed.

He said: “Organisers who can pay for scheduled carriers will want a direct connection for their MICE groups. The suspension of the morning flight departures from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur will also affect onward connections for business travellers from India.”

Elsewhere, despite the Singapore dollar gaining strength against the ringgit, Malaysia appears less desirable as a destination for Singapore MICE groups, with specialists reporting slower business events bookings.

R.A. Jits Travel & Tours managing director, Harminderjit Singh, said the strong Singapore dollar and good flight connections out of Singapore have led corporate clients to look for destinations further afield, and many are opting for Thailand.

Similarly, Raaj Navaratnaa, general manager at New Asia Holiday Tours & Travel based in Johor Bahru, has received many enquiries from incentive clients in Singapore considering destinations such as Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Its inbound business from Singapore on the other hand had dropped by 30 per cent, a situation that was further aggravated by the haze in August, September and October and the ‘red shirt’ rally in Kuala Lumpur in September.

Navaratnaa remarked: “We had a big meeting group of 600 pax from Singapore, who had planned to have their meeting in Kuala Lumpur end of September, cancel because of the rally. They went to Thailand instead.”

Navaratnaa added that the main challenge for Malaysia is that there are no new impressive product offerings to provide repeat clients with new experiences.

“Twentieth Century Fox World Malaysia in Resorts World Genting and Movie Animation Park Studios in Perak, both of which will open in 2016, will definitely help because corporate clients from Singapore tend to bring their families along, especially if the trip coincides with public and school holidays.”

{Taking Numbers}

Anthony Wong, group managing director of Asian Overland Services Tourism & Hospitality Group

Anthony Wong, group managing director of Asian Overland Services Tourism & Hospitality Group, suggests three places to visit while in Malaysia

Nothing fishy about this place

Aquaria KLCC, a world-class aquarium that showcases marine life and small animals from around the world is located at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre complex. It gives visitors a chance to get up close with marine life without getting wet. The venue is an interesting place to hold corporate cocktails, product launches and press events before or after the main event at the convention centre.

Watch a Kadazan musical

When in Sabah, do make it a point to watch a live theatre performance called Sininggazanak, shown twice daily at J Borneo Native Village. The musical is the only live performance in Sabah showcasing the indigenous Kadazan tribe. There are twice daily performances at 09.30 and 13.30.

Cycling state of mind

Go on a cycling tour in Penang. Get some exercise while you take in the scenic view of paddy fields, villages – complete with cows and goats – and a mangrove forest in Balik Pulau. After an hour, the guide will take a short break at Kuala Sungai Burong, a nice and quiet place to relax. There, a simple local picnic basket awaits you. After lunch, take a leisurely stroll along the riverbank lined with coconut trees.

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