By Manik Mehta
NEW YORK,( Aug 25) — Even as Malaysia mourns the two Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane tragedies – the MH370 disappearance and the more recent MH17 downing in eastern Ukraine – the country is still perceived by United States’ travel agents and tour operators as an attractive destination.
This is the finding of a survey conducted by the New York office of Tourism Malaysia, the agency that promotes tourism to Malaysia, among US based travel agents and tour operators on the east coast.
The overwhelming perception is that Malaysia and, also, MAS had nothing to do with the two tragedies.
“When there was the second incident with the MH17 flight, we conducted the survey among travel agents who told us that it was not Malaysia Airlines’ fault. In fact, it could happen to any other airline.
MAS was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Those surveyed said that this has nothing to do with Malaysia or MAS as far as tourism to Malaysia is concerned.
This is the feedback we got from the local travel agents. But after such incidents, people tend to be afraid to fly with any airline,” explained Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali, the vice president of the New York office of Tourism Malaysia, in an interview with Bernama.
US tourism experts say that Malaysia should, in fact, intensify its tourism promotional efforts not only because this is Visit Malaysia Year 2014 but also because of the two tragic incidents involving MAS planes.
Since MAS no longer flies to the United States, Tourism Malaysia collaborates with other airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, etc.
In June, before the downing of the MH17 plane, Ahmad Johanif had accompanied a group of 32 travel agents to Malaysia as part of the collaboration between Tourism Malaysia and the Travel & Leisure magazine.
“Travel & Leisure magazine conducted a seminar involving some local operators in Malaysia. After the travel agents’ tour, we had a seminar with the travel agents and gathered their feedback about their impressions of Malaysia. The feedback was positive,” Ahmad Johanif said.
He also revealed that his office was planning during the fourth quarter of the year a tactical campaign to promote Malaysia tour packages.
The tactical campaign is an arrangement between Tourism Malaysia and tour operators on the east coast.
“We will share the costs of advertising in newspapers, magazines, television, etc. Our role will be to provide publicity to the tour operators,” he said.
Despite the two incidents involving MAS planes, the number of travellers from the US visiting Malaysia experienced a modest rise, confirming the perception of travel agents and tour operators that Malaysia is still a good destination.
“We are confident that we can reach our target of sending 250,000 visitors from the United States to Malaysia in 2014. We clocked about 245,000 visitors from the United States in Malaysia in 2013, despite the fact that there is no direct flight connectivity between Malaysia and the United States,” Ahmad Johanif said.
Tourism Malaysia’s New York office has been participating in a number of promotional events, notably with its recent sponsorship of the Drive M7 Aspar team and the Ajo Moto Sports which competed in the MotoGP and Moto3 car-racing tournament in Indianapolis.
Both these teams, under the Tourism Malaysia sponsorship, displayed the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 logo on their rider suits, motorbikes, pit boxes and the team’s transportation vehicles.
Both teams agreed to cooperate with Tourism Malaysia to strengthen the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 promotion at all upcoming racing events.
There will be a total of nine races distributed among the United States, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Japan and Australia. The teams will be organising a ‘meet-and-greet’ session with riders and pit-box visit during the race.
“Tourism Malaysia New York is also promoting the Malaysian Grand Prix to be held at Sepang on Oct 26, 2014. We are identifying, and cooperating with tour operators in the United States who are selling MotoGP Malaysian packages.
Tour operators can also offer added value for their packages, for example, by organising ‘meet-and-greet’ sessions with riders, a visit to the pit box, team souvenirs and gifts, and the rider’s personal belongings as a lucky draw gift,” Ahmad Johanif said.
Tourism Malaysia’s New York office collaborated with the rider team Red Bull KTM AJO Motor Sport that carried the VMY 2014 logo. KTM was the name of the motorcycle and the team was led by Marc Markesh.
Ahmad Johanif said his office dealt with Aki Ajo of Finland who owns the Ajo Motor Sports that managed the rider team.—BERNAMA