Malaysia Official ITB Berlin Partner Country 2019: the Countdown Has Begun

Interview with Dato’ Sri Abdul Khani Daud, Deputy General Director (Promotion) – Tourism Malaysia

With the official “passing of the baton” from this year’s Official Partner – Mecklenburg Verpommern – and Malaysia – at the closing ceremony of ITB Berlin 2018, the countdown has thus begun for the Southeast Asian nation to be Official Partner Country 2019. We asked Dato Sri Khani YBhg. Dato’ Sri Abdul Khani Daud, Deputy General Director (Promotion) – Tourism Malaysia how this year’s show went…

Everything went well this year. We had 152 participants in our stand in 74 organisations. Some are from the private sector, working here on B2B meetings. After ITB Berlin everyone will be looking forward to following up with the contacts made here for future promotion, especially towards Visit Malaysia 2020. We are gearing up for next year as well, as we are ITB Berlin country partner. We have had a lot of discussion with ITB management here in Berlin, working on our visibility for next year, in terms of promotion during the event. As a country partner, we have to prepare for our opening ceremony, in terms of what kind of image we portray to the world, as there will be a large number of international VIPs there from all over the world.

So this year, it’s been a kind of planning phase for next year’s “big event”?

Yes, in fact we have eleven state representatives here this year, and we have our NGOs, Malaysian Travel and Tour Operator associations here with us, and we have had discussions about the fact that next year we have to come together, to make sure that our presence for ITB 2019 is the best, for us to prepare for Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

How important is tourism as part of Malaysia’s economy?

Tourism is always a pillar of our economy – number five – contributing 82bn Ringgit in receipts (eds. approx. €17bn) and providing close to four million jobs. There are a lot of indirect benefits as well, in the hotel industry, transport and so on.

One of the main aspects of your promotion is ecotourism. What concrete things are being done by the government to underpin sustainable tourism?

The Federal Government has already come up with a national plan, called Malaysia Ecotourism Plan 2016-2025. We have already identified 63 clusters of eco-sites that can be promoted as tourism attractions to the world. Currently, we have already identified six of these clusters that are ready to receive tourism. This is one of the things the government is doing to promote ecotourism, to protect our nature, to attract tourists and to experience these places. This is not only for the tourists, but also for our next generations. For instance, in Sabah, they have stopped virtually all new logging activities. Tourism income has already surpassed that of logging in Sabah, so logging is no longer a priority. Tourism is the key economic area now for Sabah. Also in Sarawak, they recently stopped or revoked logging licences for two companies, meaning no more logging in key parts of Sarawak. These are the good developments in these areas thanks to the State Governments there, making sure the ecosystem, the nature and the environment are protected for the next generation, and also for the international tourists to experience. And in turn, this has a strong positive economic impact. We want the tourists to come to Malaysia, to enjoy what we have – the environment, the nature, the culture, the modern cities and facilities we have, but at the same time, protect and respect what the locals have, and together to preserve the nature and the culture, and make tourism sustainable for the future.

It can be very surprising for visitors to find genuinely untouched nature, as one can see in your state parks. How much does this fact – of being able to find untouched nature – make the destination stand out from other nations in the region?

Indeed, Gunung Mulu National park in Sarawak, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, or Royal Belum, where we have requested UNESCO status. Even though it covers a surface of more than 500 sq km, Gunung Mulu is not visited by many international visitors. Last year, only 8,000 international visitors were recorded there. Belum also is untouched, with its Orang Asli aboriginal people. These are places we want the world to discover and explore, but of course, at the same time they need to be protected.

So you’re not looking for mass tourism in these places?

Of course. For those who appreciate the environment, these places are unique. Places like Mulu, Taman Negara or Belum are not mess tourism destinations like Kuala Lumpur or Penang or Malacca, where you can do a lot more things in the city. By the same token, these areas are great for families, even with small children, because the facilities are there to cater for them. At Mulu, there is a boardwalk directly from the hotel to the cave. Similarly, in Sipadan, there are only 120 permits to dive per day. This is to protect the environment from the possible effects of mass tourism.

Just how important is the partnership with ITB Berlin as part of your Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign?

We cannot organise Visit Malaysia 2020 without support from our industry partners worldwide. It’s our aim, in 2020, to receive 36-million arrivals worldwide. From there, it will generate 168bn Ringgit (eds. approx. €34bn) into our economy. So, partners are important. And ITB Berlin being the largest travel fair in the world, bringing all the B2B players for meetings here, it’s something we have to leverage. We have the opportunity to spread our news to over a hundred thousand trade visitors at next year’s show. And before that, we also have the chance to work with the organisers, Messe Berlin, to promote our destination through the next 12 months, in the run up to next year’s show. Then after that, ITB can use Malaysia’s partnership as a case study, talking about our destination all over the world, as well as to the thousands of media representatives coming into the show. These are things we will benefit from, by being a partner of ITB 2019.