Interview: Mohamaddin Bin Haji Ketapi, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture for Malaysia

On the occasion of Malaysia’s Official Partnership of ITB Berlin, the Honourable Minister has provided the following interview for free use by global media.

How important is tourism for Malaysia? 

In 2018, Malaysia received a total of 25.8 million international tourists. With Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign in the works, we look forward to seeing our arrival figures grow to 30 million and tourist receipts reach RM100 billion by the year 2020.

The tourism Industry continued its significant contribution to Malaysia’s economy with a share of 14.9% in 2017 as compared to 10.4% in 2005.

In 2017, the direct contribution of tourism to GDP recorded 6.1% with a value of RM82.6 billion (2016: RM76.6 billion).

The number of employees involved in Malaysia’s tourism sector has risen to 3.4 million in 2017 from 1.5 million in 2005. The employment in tourism industry contributed 23.2% to total employment in 2017 (2005:15%). Most of the employment in tourism industry was from the retail trade industry (33.7%) and food & beverage serving services (32.3%) respectively.

Tourism is also important to Malaysia as it helps to empower the local community economically. Taking Malaysia Homestay Programme as an example, it offers the local village-folk to take part in offering authentic homestay experiences to tourists. In 2017, the revenue generated from the programme reached RM27.6 million.

Statistic shows that in 2018, a total of 372,475 tourists (local and foreign) participated in the homestay programme across the nation. Within this period, a total number of 218 villages with 4,070 homes have taken part in the programme. These villages are spread throughout the nation, including popular tourist destinations like Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, Melaka, Johor, Penang, Langkawi, and many more.

In Nov 2012, Malaysia’s Homestay Experience Programme was announced as the winner of the UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance at the UNWTO Awards Ceremony held in Istanbul, Turkey.

What is the overall policy of the new administration concerning tourism? What are your Ministry’s key aims in the coming months and years?

The Tourism Malaysia Integrated Promotional Plan 2018 – 2020 was formulated and implemented to tackle existing challenges and improve Malaysia’s tourism performance, with the following strategies in mind:

  • Optimise the usage of latest information technology for promotion, publicity and advertising
  • Leverage on upcoming major events in Malaysia, especially business events, 5th World Tourism Conference from 26 to 28 August 2019 in KL, and the Malaysia-China Cooperation Year in 2019-2020, 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, KL (11-14 March 2019); CHOGM, APEC meeting, etc.
  • Synergise efforts with the development of mega projects such as Impression City Melaka and Desaru Coast, etc.
  • Enhancing NKEA initiatives (collaboration with airlines & tour operators, charter flights, high yield segment)
  • Maximize integrated marketing campaigns by partnering with Government agencies
  • Promote Malaysia as a filming destination


Malaysia as Official Partner Country at ITB Berlin 2019 (6-10 March)

The titleship will entail publicity opportunities globally as well as the potential to reach out to key decision makers and top industry players.

Thomson Cruise/TUI: Fly and Cruise initiative

Thomson Cruises introduced a new cruise programme in Malaysia in Winter 2018/2019 with the TUI Discovery cruise ship homeporting in Langkawi. The inaugural Thomson Cruise Malaysia programme is from 20 December 2018 until 29 March 2019. The total potential capacity of the programme is approximately 7,200 passengers.

Opening of TUI office in Kuala Lumpur

TUI Group, one of the world’s leading tour operators, have begun operations in Malaysia, their first Southeast Asian office.


The Malaysian Government has special incentives for international airlines and tour operators as encouragement to create packages and connectivity to Malaysia. Through this incentive, we have successfully attracted Germany’s Condor Air to commence Frankfurt-KL connections beginning November 2018.

Similarly, we have attracted Thai Airways to collaborate globally and jointly develop and promote tourism to Malaysia. Among the marketing efforts both parties have agreed to are joint branded advertising and promotion across all relevant platforms, familiarization trips for consumers/trade/media from relevant markets to Malaysia, and trade and consumer fair roadshows.

Other airline partnerships have also been signed with Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Malindo Air, KLM, Philippine Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.

New tourism products

Upcoming developments such as Desaru Coast in Johor, Impression City Melaka and 20th Century Fox World Theme Park in Genting Highlands, once completed, will bring renewed interest in Malaysia.

Hotel development

We are also seeing the industry invigorated by the opening of renowned hotel property brands here. Several established hotel brands have ventured into Malaysia for the first time recently, while some of them are poised to enter the market soon. We are pleased that brands such as Double Tree, Hilton, Marriot, Anantara, Westin, Mercure, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Four Seasons, Hyatt and others see the value of Malaysia for their business expansion and investments.

To improve the service industry in the tourism sector, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has undertaken several initiatives such as:

  • Human capacity building: We are the Host, Taxi Ambassador Program
  • Recognition: Malaysia Tourism Quality Assurance
  • Awareness programs and roadshows on human capital development
  • Tourism products: SPA Awareness Program (Urutan Malaysia), Voluntourism and Homestay.
  • Engagement program: Seminar, talks and event management.
  • Providing tourism funding: Tourism Infrastructure Fund and Special Tourism Fund

Please tell us a little more about yourself and why you believe you were chosen for the portfolios of Tourism and Culture.

Coming from Sabah, a state with multicultural and religious backgrounds together with diverse tourism attractions, I believe with my vast experience and deep interest in art, culture and heritage, I am able to contribute towards enhancing and promoting the art, culture and heritage industry as one of the prominent socio-economy drivers of the nation. In addition, under the new government’s manifestos, the tourism industry will continue to be strengthened and supported to attract more visitors to see and experience Malaysian cultural and heritage diversity plus abundance of natural wonders.

Langkawi recently hosted the PATA Travel Mart. What did “putting the spotlight” on this island region bring in terms of raised recognition?

The PATA Travel Mart 2018 (PTM 2018) has attracted over 1,400 delegates from 70 global destinations. The delegate numbers embraced 389 sellers from 208 organisations and 33 destinations with local sellers comprising 32% of the total, along with 252 buyers from 241 organisations and 53 source markets.

Malaysia also welcomed a total of 17 media representatives from 12 countries including Bahrain, Cambodia, Canada, India, the Netherlands, the Philippines, UK and US to participate in the PATA event. They also helped to put spotlight on Langkawi, Malaysia.

As host of PTM 2018, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase the Isle of Legends as a top-of-mind destination to delegates and introduce the island as a nature paradise, agro-tourism destination, birdwatching destination, shopping haven, and island and beach destination. All delegates would have opportunity to know how beautiful and fascinating Langkawi is as a tourism destination, therefore will spread the news among family, friends and colleagues when they return to their country. An event such as PTM 2018 help enhance the branding of Langkawi as the main international tourist destination and preferred holiday island in this region.

As PATA Travel Mart 2018 is an effort to boost Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition (MICE) sector in Malaysia, we estimated that the Return of Investment (ROI) we gained was about RM20 million. This was based on the PATA Travel Mart Impact Survey 2015, which stated that any host country could reap a ROI of USD4 to USD4.50 for every USD1 spent in organising PTM 2018.

On a side note relating to international tourism events being hosted in Malaysia, I would like to share that Kuala Lumpur has been chosen as the World Tourism Conference 2019 country host to be held from 26-28 August 2019.

What do you hope to achieve through being official partner country of ITB Berlin 2019? 

Malaysia being partner country of ITB Berlin 2019 means a big focus on the country and a big visibility worldwide, especially now that we are promoting Visit Malaysia 2020.

But our focus will be to push not only the partner country 2019 of ITB but to make sure, that throughout the year 2019, Malaysia is seen and recognized as the wonderful destination it is. We would like to attract more visitors by being present.

What is being planned around the event in terms of promotional and cultural activities? 

I believe Malaysia’s cultural uniqueness is a big draw for the Europe market. As you may know, Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures with influences from Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnicities, as well as from Europe, Arab and the Malay Archipelago. This has resulted in a mixed yet harmonious legacy that manifests itself in Malaysia’s architecture, clothing, language, cuisine and other aspects. As such, the highlight of our presence at ITB this year will be the cultural aspects that we bring to the show.

Visitors to the trade show happening from 6-8 March 2019 would have the opportunity to experience Malaysia’s architecture, local food and cultural performances. We will be bringing in the national cultural troupe to showcase about an hour-long performance during the Opening Gala that reflects the beauty and diversity of Malaysian culture and heritage.

Visitors to the Malaysia Pavilion can also get to know the Ring Ladies of Sarawak, so named because of their beauty ritual of wearing copper coiled rings on the forearms and calves respectively. This symbol of beauty is fast disappearing and ITB visitors will be lucky to catch the last remaining Ring Ladies of Sarawak this year.

Malaysia will also bring a special exhibition of Sarawak scarves called “keringkam.” These are hand-embroidered scarves made using gold thread and is an important part of Sarawak heirloom legacy. Visitors will get to see these treasured headgear and other ornaments that have rarely been exhibited.

The Malaysia Pavilion at Hall 26A, Stand 117, will also display architectural forms adapted from ancient Malay architecture. Besides being the venue for networking and meetings, it will also hold regular cultural performances throughout the exhibition. Delicious Malaysian cuisine, renowned for its generous use of medicinal spices and herbs, will also be made available for the public to sample.

How is tourism infrastructure being developed under your Ministership?

Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture (MOTAC) is working closely with State Agencies especial with State Economic Planning Unit (UPEN) as well as Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah (KePKAS) and Ministry of Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports of Sarawak (MTACYS) in considering any proposed tourism infrastructure development in Malaysia.

The Ministry will first evaluate the proposal from the State and submit only viable proposals to Economic Planning Unit, Ministry of Economic Affair (EPU, MEA) for consideration and approval.

Upon approval from EPU, tourism development projects will be managed either by Public Works Department (JKR), Local Council or Ministry itself depending on the suitability of the project. After completion, tourism development projects will be handed over to the State Government and it is upon their decision either to manage by themselves or to appoint private sector to operate.

What are your biggest challenges in the next years?

The main challenge is to get more involvement from the non-governmental bodies and societies to cooperate and organise any programmes, events and activities relating to national art, culture and heritage. The Ministry has several incentives such as tax reduction and exemptions for private companies that are willing to fund such art, cultural and heritage programmes. I would like to remind again that the effort in empowering and sustaining our art, culture and heritage not only falls on the government’s shoulder but importantly, on the collaborative efforts with other individuals, private sectors and NGOs.

What would you say are Malaysia’s “key selling points” as a global tourism destination? What sets this country apart from the rest – especially in SE Asia? 

The “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tagline has worked wonders to position our destination’s diversity. It gets the message across that Malaysia is a kaleidoscope of customs, religions, traditions, festivals, heritage, arts and crafts, and cuisines of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and various ethnic group that continues to fascinate visitors from all over the world.

Malaysia has also premised itself as a diverse tourism destination that offers world-class attractions, including nature, shopping, adventure, islands and beaches, as well as many international events, offering visitors a plethora of interesting choices. Besides that, the country is also a major destination for health tourism and MICE events.

This “Malaysia, Truly Asia” branding continues till today to position Malaysia’s uniqueness.

Upcoming developments such as Desaru Coast in Johor, Impression City Melaka and 20th Century Fox World Theme Park in Genting Highlands, once completed, will bring renewed interest in Malaysia.

We are also seeing the industry invigorated by the opening of renowned hotel property brands here. Several established hotel brands have ventured into Malaysia for the first time recently, while some of them are poised to enter the market in the near future. We are pleased that brands such as Double Tree, Hilton, Marriot, Anantara, Westin, Mercure, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Four Seasons, Hyatt and others see the value of Malaysia for their business expansion and investments.

Malaysian food is probably one of its best attractions to visitors as dining in the country is truly a gastronomy experience. Being a multi-cultural country, Malaysia offers a great variety of local cuisines. Visitors will definitely be amazed by the incredible range of food, desserts and fruits found throughout the country.

Penang Assam Laksa Ranked no.7 on CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods in 2018. Ipoh has been named as one of the top three best coffee spots in Asia by the world’s largest travel-guide publisher, Lonely Planet this year. Besides, citing Southeast Asia as the best region to try local cuisine, named two places in Malaysia in its list of Top 10 destinations to taste local food – Ipoh and Johor Bahru.

Kuala Lumpur was voted by global news network CNN as the world’s 4th Best Shopping City, after New York, Tokyo and London, and ahead of Paris, Hong Kong and Dubai, for two consecutive years – 2012 and 2013. Some of our renowned shopping outlets include Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Midvalley Megamall, KLCC and etc. We now have several premium outlet malls – Johor Premium Outlet, Mitsui Outlet Park, Freeport Melaka, Design Village Outlet Mall in Penang and Genting Premium Outlet – to give shoppers better value for money.

Beautiful beaches and islands are in abundance in Malaysia. Langkawi, Malaysia was on the Conde Nast Traveler list of The Best Islands in the World 2018. Some top choices of beautiful beaches and islands include Sipadan island, Sabah; Pangkor Island, Perak; Batu Feringhi Beach, Penang; Perhentian island, Terengganu.

Malaysia’s tropical rainforests, said to be over 130 million years old, are also a unique feature of Malaysia. Some of the renowned rainforests in Malaysia include Taman Negara Pahang, Endau-Rompin, Gunung Mulu National Park, Kuala Selangor Nature Park, and Kinabalu Park.

Condor has just started flights from Frankfurt to KL. What are your thoughts on this? Will it help recreate an equilibrium in flights from EU?

The European Market is very important for us, as it is a market with a high potential. To attract this market even more, we have planned a lot – participations at the most relevant European tourism exhibitions for trade and consumers, we have realized that Malaysia is known as tourism destination among those travelers looking for a great combination of nature, adventure, heritage and beach holidays. Almost all important European tour operators have Malaysia on offer in their catalogues. And with Condor flying from Frankfurt to Kuala Lumpur we will get more and better flight connections to Malaysia.

Besides Condor, Tourism Malaysia also is focusing on increasing partnership with various airlines such as Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar, Thai Airways and many more. With Condor flying directly to Kuala Lumpur and partnerships with other airlines for sure, the numbers from the German speaking markets will increase in the year to come.

Click here to download profile of Minister in Word file: BI – Profile Hon. Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture Malaysia (edit 23 Jan 19)