Kuala Lumpur is a Gulf traveller summer favourite so agents should now persuade clients to visit the Malaysian city year-round.
Boasting luxury hotels with offerings tailored to their needs, awe-inspiring sights to rival those of the GCC's showiest cities, lush green parks to balance the dry desert sands and bargains to satisfy the most ardent shopaholic, it's no surprise that Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur sales manager Mukhriz Ma'arof calls the city the "number one destination for Middle East travellers".
"Initially they only came in summer - June, July and August - but now it's starting to be year-round," he says.
Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board director for UAE, Gulf and Iran, Tuan Razali Tuan Omar, also claims Malaysia is the destination most visited by Middle East travellers.
"It's a good Muslim country so Middle East travellers feel like they are at home. The numbers are increasing year on year, and in 2007 they increased by approximately 30% from the GCC region," he says.
Leisure travellers - mostly families - travel to KL during the summer months according to Omar, with 50% of the yearly total visiting in August.
Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur general manager Jonas A Schuermann has also noticed an increase in year-round sales, noting that he has seen more business coming from honeymooners travelling from the GCC, as well as corporate business from travellers working in the Islamic banking field.
Shangri-La's Ma'arof adds that incentive groups from Saudi Arabia are visiting "during the first few months of the year".
The reasons for the city's popularity are manifold, with Schuermann listing easy access through Malaysia's gateway Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the fact that GCC citizens don't require a visa to travel to the country.
He adds: "value for money in Kuala Lumpur is fantastic as the money goes a very long way compared to other countries in Asia, and obviously the US and Europe.
We also do a lot for our Middle Eastern guests in terms of menus and we now have a total of three permanently employed Middle Eastern colleagues, so language is not an issue.
During summer Ma'arof boosts the number of Arabic-speaking staff to 10. Meanwhile, the entire menu at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur is Halal-certified and every year the hotel invites chefs from hotels in either Saudi Arabia or the UAE to KL to cook in the hotel's kitchen and work with its catering staff to produce Arabic-centric menus.
"This year we will also set up tents and shisas by the pool for the Middle East guests," adds Schuermann.
Ma'arof says the best way for agents to learn about KL and his property is to visit the city and "stay in touch" with what the Malaysian capital has to offer. We have three people within the hotel dedicated to the Middle East market, including myself.
He also stresses that because Ramadan falls earlier this year, agents should note that Muslim clients will be travelling to KL earlier than usual this summer.
"We think that they will start coming in mid-June, compared to early July last year, going home at the end of August rather than mid-September," explains Schuermann.
"This year, from a timing point of view, we think there will be a bit of a shift. If you also look at school holidays in the bigger markets, such as KSA, they start a little bit earlier and they have three-and-a-half months this year so we're really trying to capture that market based on school holidays.
Shopping and sights
The Petronas Twin Towers and the 421-metre Menara Kuala Lumpur or KL Tower - are "very romantic spots" according to Shangri-La's Ma'arof with both offering panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur and are perhaps its most famous sights.
"We have been promoting Kuala Lumpur for 10 years already and a lot of people from the Middle East have come to Kuala Lumpur - KL Tower is the landmark they know," says Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board's Omar.While those looking for nature can find a host of attractions such as KL Lake Gardens, a Bird Park, Butterfly Park, Deer Park, an Orchid Garden and a Hibiscus Garden.
"The main appeal of Kuala Lumpur though is the shopping," says Omar. Famous shopping areas include Kuala Lumpur City Centre next to the Twin Towers for designer and high street goods, Chinatown (Petaling Street) for back street bargains and the art deco Central Market for souvenirs and handicrafts.
"The city is also a family destination and we have many facilities for families such as theme parks, so when a Middle Eastern family comes to Kuala Lumpur the mother can go shopping and the father can take his children to see the attractions," adds Omar.
New market trends
Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board is now trying to sell Kuala Lumpur as a gateway into Malaysia, somewhere where Middle East travellers can base themselves while exploring the rest of the country.
"While the number of Middle East travellers to Kuala Lumpur will surely increase, we want them to experience one or two nights outside of the city - on the east coast, for example," says Omar.
Mandarin Oriental's Schuermann says people do come to visit Kuala Lumpur and then go on to Langkarwi, Borneo or Penang afterwards, but shopping and food are aspects of the city's appeal that will keep Middle East travellers returning: "We are also aiming at the ex-pat market - guests who will come for long-weekends and during Ramadan when it gets a bit quieter here," he adds.
But the market with the biggest potential according to Schuermann is medical tourism, especially now the Prince Court Medical Centre has opened its doors: "The new hospital is no more than 10 minutes from our hotel and it's owned by Pertronis and operated by the University of Vienna in Austria.
It is specialising in medical tourism, cardio screenings and cosmetic surgery and it's really doing a fantastic job," he says. "You can go to medical facilities in Thailand or Singapore, but they're big, whereas this is smaller and very affordable.
It's been open now for eight months and the fact that it is run and operated by the University of Vienna really gives it a lot of credibility as well."
For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.