Asia’s number one city

Kuala Lumpur is a Gulf traveller summer favourite so agents should now persuade clients to visit the Malaysian city year-round.
Asia’s number one city
By Administrator
Mon 16 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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.

How to sell toFamilies:Kuala Lumpur is the ideal destination for families, offering a host of theme parks, museums and attractions for children. These include the 110-acre Zoo Negara (National Zoo), which houses more than 5137 animals, including 459 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Night tours are also available for kids to see some of the animals at their most active.

Agents should also recommend the Aquaria KLCC, which takes visitors on a journey through the history of the deep, starting with ‘evolution' and moving through ‘weird and wonderful', the Aqua Theatre, Underwater Tunnel, Interactive Kiosks Flooded Forest Tube Tank and Aquaria gift shop. The more adventurous among your clients can even choose to dive with sharks.

Couples/Honeymooners:Recommend a stay at the Mandarin Oriental overlooking the lush greenery of the 50-acre KLCC Park and sitting right next to the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Couples looking for romance can enjoy a champagne breakfast, butler-drawn bubble bath or the Mandarin Oriental room service.

Shopaholics:KL is a shopaholic's dream, offering excellent value for money and everything from designer stores to boutique fashion. One of the city's newest shopping malls is Pavilion KL, which opened on September 20 and houses 450 outlets spanning shops, food and beverage outlets and urban leisure areas.

It stocks designer brands like Aigner, Club Monaco, Coach, Ermenegildo Zegna, Hermes, Hugo Boss, Juicy Couture, Prada and Versace.

The Mandarin Oriental offers guests the chance to claim purchase points when they shop at Suria KLCC shopping centre under the Exclusive Lifestyle Programme. VIP personal shopper services are also available.

Agents should also note that the Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival runs from August to September where most retail outlets offer big discounts. The carnival is similar to Dubai's Summer Surprises festival.

Medical tourists:Malaysia is an emerging medical tourism destination. The private Prince Court Medical Centre, supported by the Medical University of Vienna, offers a variety of health screening packages. Visit www.princecourt.com

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."

The sales pitchGetting there:Emirates Airline:from Dubai, 12 weekly - twice daily on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and three daily on Wednesday.

OmanAir:Oman Air will offer direct flights to Kuala Lumpur from this summer.

Qatar:from Doha, daily.

Etihad:from Abu Dhabi, six weekly, (Sunday to Tuesday).

KuwaitAirways:from Kuwait, twice weekly Saudi Arabian Airlines: from Riyadh, twice weekly; from Dammam, one weekly.

MalaysiaAirlines:from Beirut, three weekly; and from Dubai, daily

All major Asian airlines offer services to Kuala Lumpur via their hubs.

Visas:GCC citizens do not require a visa to travel to Kuala Lumpur and neither do most EU or Commonwealth passport holders.

Currency:100 Malaysia Ringgits (MYR) = US $30

Packages:Dnata Holidays: prices start from US $1086 per person, including tax, for a three-night stay in a deluxe room at the five-star Shangri La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, including return economy class Malaysia Airlines flights between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, daily breakfast, Mercedes Airport transfers, meet and assist on arrival.

Currently a special offer allows a free upgrade to the next room type (subject to availability). The package is valid July 1 to August 31, 2008. Useful links:

www.travel.tourism.gov.my

www.mandarinoriental.com

www.tradershotels.com

www.shangri-la.com

www.zoonegara.org.my

www.klaquaria.com

www.pavilion-kl.com www.klcc.com.my

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