Malaysia seeks to attract more Arab tourists

Pullman Restaurant Lakeside in evening time Putrajaya, Malaysia. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 June 2019

Malaysia seeks to attract more Arab tourists

  • Tourism minister tells Arab News how his country plans to do so

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is on a mission to welcome more tourists from the Arab world, establishing itself as a cosmopolitan, halal paradise.
With pristine beaches and diverse cultures, the Southeast Asian country has become a magnet for Middle Eastern tourists.
“Malaysia enjoys good relations with the Middle East. Arabs will always feel welcome in Malaysia. We have mutual respect for each other,” Malaysian Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi told Arab News.
“Malaysia has a multicultural society. There are a lot of ethnic groups that live happily and peacefully in this country.”
Colonized by the British, migrants from China and India were brought to Malaysia as laborers. “The country is a mix of people … such as the Malays, Chinese and Indians,” said Haji Ketapi.
“Malaysia has countless places to visit besides the capital Kuala Lumpur,” he added, citing Penang, Melaka, the Langkawi islands and Sabah.
“In the Middle East, most of the visitors are from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, the UAE and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” he said.

Malaysia's Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi.  (AN photo)

In 2018, nearly 33,000 Arab tourists visited Malaysia, up from 27,000 the previous year. “We want to have more Middle Eastern tourists,” said Haji Ketapi, adding that the majority of Arab tourists are from Saudi Arabia.
The number of Arab tourists is expected to rise further as Malaysia continues to position itself as a Muslim-friendly, halal haven.
Saudi tourists spend the most when holidaying in Malaysia, at $257 per capita, more than visitors from the UK, the US and Australia, said Haji Ketapi.
“Recently, we were in Dubai promoting Malaysia to attract more Arabs. They’re considered high-end tourists,” he added.
“When they come to Malaysia, they can spend up to six or seven nights, or even more. They stay longer in Malaysia than some other tourists.”
Saudi tourists spent on average 10.1 nights holidaying in Malaysia. “They come to Malaysia for health treatments, shopping and holidaying,” said Haji Ketapi.
“Some of them even come here for business. They have restaurant businesses. That’s why you can easily find Arabic restaurants.”
This year, Malaysia was ranked by the Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index as the top travel destination for Muslim travellers for the ninth year in a row.
“Halal food can be easily found in the country. The majority of the population are Muslims,” said Haji Ketapi.

Malaysia's Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi speaking to Arab News journalist Nor Arlene Tan. (AN photo)

Muslim tourists “can go anywhere in the country without difficulty,” he added. “Mosques are everywhere for them to perform prayers. During Ramadan, there are a lot of Middle Eastern tourists visiting Malaysia.”
In every hotel, shopping mall and airport, Muslim travellers can find prayer rooms with signage pointing to Makkah, said Haji Ketapi.
Air Arabia “will be flying soon from Sharjah International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport to bring more tourists from Arab countries,” he added.
“Arabs can easily learn about Malaysia with just a click of a button,” he said. “If I want to go to Dubai, I can just go on the internet and get information about Dubai. I can easily search for the name and cost of hotels and food.”
Some 30 percent of the population in the Middle East are aged 15-29. As such, Malaysia’s government hopes to attract younger tourists through its Visit Malaysia 2020 tourism campaign, which will include digital marketing, social media, influencers, hosted media and other online platforms.
“These people will cover Malaysia through social media and the internet, and bring the news to their country,” said Haji Ketapi.
“We hope to do more such connectivity to get more … tourists from everywhere to visit Malaysia.”

Saudi female archaeologist goes back to the future with career ambitions

Updated 24 July 2019

Saudi female archaeologist goes back to the future with career ambitions

  • University sets up first women’s archaeology department to dig into Kingdom’s historical past

RIYADH: Najlah Salman Al-Saeer, one of Saudi Arabia’s top emerging female archaeologists, talks about her journey into the past and her career ambitions for the future.

A Saudi archaeologist is fast-becoming a leading light in the field for her work delving into the Kingdom’s cultural past.

Through her fascination for all things old, Najla Salman Al-Saeer has been digging back millions of years into the history of the country.

And she is hoping to expand her knowledge by continuing her education abroad to help unearth even more of the Kingdom’s treasures of the past.

After gaining a bachelor’s degree in arts (libraries and information) from Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Al-Saeer began studying for a master’s degree in tourism and archaeology, graduating this year from King Saud University (KSU).

Najla Al-Saeer's team at work. (Photo/Supplied)

The KSU archaeology department was established in 1977 to be the Saudi center for graduated qualified national professionals in the subject and its diverse sciences, and to provide excellent scientific knowledge to serve the job market and provide homegrown experts in the field.

Al-Saeer specializes in material heritage, archaeological sites and everything related to documents and manuscripts. “I write in newspapers about my field visits to archaeological and heritage sites,” she told Arab News.

“Studying archaeology was based on my love of exploration in the first place, and consequent entry into the work field on archaeological surveys and excavations.

“The study of material findings gives the researcher a concrete conception of the first human settlements, successive civilizations, and the culture prevailing in communities up until the period they belong to.

“My studies in libraries and information also played a role in choosing archaeology. My interest in manuscripts, which I call cultural heritage, meant I studied them in an archaeological way so that I could be within the scope of professional archaeological work,” she added.

Najla Al-Saeer's team at work. (Photo/Supplied)

Al-Saeer completed her master’s research project on “The Archaeological Study of the Manuscripts in West Africa (such as Timbuktu),” and she is currently working on writing a scientific report related to her surveys and excavations of the Wadi Shami and Wadi Matar sites in the Farasan island of Jazan.

While working on a temple at Wadi Matar, she discovered objects dating back thousands of years. “I found a fragment of Nabati pottery, beads, pottery wares and other artifacts such as bones and shells.”

Al-Saeer is not alone in the Kingdom as a female archaeologist. In 1989, KSU established the first women’s department of archaeology to promote the roles of female students and researchers.

Dr. Samer Sahla, head of the university’s archaeology section, said the department offered a postgraduate program exclusively for female students.


While working on a temple at Wadi Matar, Najla Al-Saeer discovered objects dating back thousands of years ago. Al-Saeer is not alone in the Kingdom as a female archaeologist. In 1989, KSU established the first women’s department of archaeology to promote the roles of female students and researchers.

“The number of female students currently in the graduate program is approximately 75. We accept annually 15 to 20 female students in our masters and Ph.D. programs, and applications are generally increasing,” he added. 

Al-Saeer’s main aims at present are to work on her Ph.D. project in archaeology and participate in surveys and explorations of other key heritage sites in the Kingdom, and she is also hoping for the opportunity to work abroad.

She said that archaeologists usually located excavation sites by foot surveys or using aerial photography and metal detectors.

One of the oldest Saudi sites is in the village of Al-Shwaihtia, about 45 km from the city of Sakaka in Al-Jawf, where human settlements dating back to the Paleolithic era have been found.

Najla Al-Saeer and her team during their work. (Photo/Supplied)

Al-Saeer pointed to the important role played by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). “The commission took the coverage on its behalf by holding lectures and symposia after each task in the archaeological sites of the Kingdom to discuss the most important results, in addition to holding conferences including the first Saudi Archaeological Conference in Riyadh, in 2017.”

She added that the SCTH was able to develop global interest in Saudi archaeological finds through its longstanding partnerships with foreign teams including those from France, Germany and Japan.

She has benefitted from “working on different methodologies of archaeological research and practicing them in archaeological sites, in addition to benefiting from the diverse experiences within the work team, which includes individuals holding various specializations other than archaeology.”