Affordable, accessible China draws Malaysian corporates

Amid the ringgit’s depreciation against major currencies and Malaysia’s economic growth slowdown, destinations in China have become increasingly popular among Malaysian companies with tight budgets for incentive programmes.

Faeez Fadhlillah, co-founder and CEO of Tripfez Travel & Tours, highlighted a growing demand for secondary destinations in China, such as Xi’an and Zhangjiajie, over first-tier cities.

He shared that these secondary cities offer better value for money, with potential savings of approximately 10 to 15 per cent on ground costs compared to their first-tier counterparts. Additionally, these secondary cities could provide experiences encompassing cultural, natural, and scenic attractions.

Secondary Chinese cities like Xi’an (pictured), Zhangjiajie, Suzhou and Zhuhai are deemed more affordable by budget-conscious Malaysian corporates

Faeez also highlighted Xi’an as another secondary destination that will appeal to incentive groups, especially with AirAsia X’s new thrice-weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Xi’an starting on April 4. This appeal is due to the city’s wealth of historical attractions, including the Terracotta Warriors and The Great Wild Goose Pagoda.

He said: “Currently, AirAsia X is the sole provider of direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Xi’An. I believe that with improved connectivity, it will become even easier to promote the destination to larger groups.”

Mint Leong, managing director of Sunflower Holidays, added that cost-conscious corporates are also opting for four-star local hotels that are away from central business districts.

Savings are also obtained by offering more independent leisure time for delegates and covering only some meals.

For the same reason, secondary destinations like Suzhou, Zhuhai, and Chongqing are increasingly being considered due to their affordability.

Adam Kamal, director of Suka Travel & Tours, which specialises in Muslim outbound travel, opined that Kunming makes for a great incentive travel
destination for Muslim clients due to the availability of Muslim-friendly food. Kunming also has an “abundance of natural beauty which you do not find in first-tier cities”.

Adam shared that China Eastern Airlines’ new services to Kunming from Kuala Lumpur has improved access. This route is also serviced by AirAsia and Batik Air Malaysia.

That said, agents do not see first-tier cities losing their shine among Malaysian corporates. Adam has also observed a surge in enquiries for travel to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in the second half of 2024.

The availability of halal food in large restaurants has contributed to this interest, as well as the impact of China’s visa-free policy. Malaysians can now visit China for up to 15 days, from December 1, 2023 to November 30, 2024.

“This policy change has significantly bolstered China’s attractiveness as an incentive destination, particularly when compared to East Asian rivals like South Korea,” Adam stated.

He further emphasised China’s allure as an affordable destination, where transactions are conducted in renminbi, offering a contrast to Europe where the prevalent currency is the US dollar.

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