Malaysia sees hike in Arab tourists

Malaysia has become a destination of choice for Arabs, with the country attracting a larger number of tourists from the Middle East compared to previous years. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 May 2019

Malaysia sees hike in Arab tourists

  • In 2018, nearly 33,000 Arab tourists visited the country, up from 27,000 in 2017
  • The biggest spenders in Malaysia are tourists from Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE, Oman, Iran and Kuwait

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has become a destination of choice for Arabs, with the country attracting a larger number of tourists from the Middle East compared to previous years, officials told Arab News on Wednesday. 

In 2018, nearly 33,000 Arab tourists visited the country, up from 27,000 in 2017. The number is expected to reach 35,000 this year. 

Malaysia’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi was quoted as saying on Sunday that the sharp increase in Arab tourists in 2018 was due largely to Mahathir Mohamad’s election as prime minister that year. The 93-year-old premier is held in high regard in the Arab world. 

Many Arabs admire the country for its balance of Islam and modernity, said Dr. Ziad Mohamad, head of public relations at the Palestinian Cultural Organization Malaysia.

Situated in Southeast Asia, the country has tropical weather, diverse cultures and a Muslim-majority population. Most Arab tourists are allowed to enter Malaysia without a visa. 

Its emphasis on promoting halal industries and catering to the needs of Muslim travelers earned it the top spot in the Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2019 last month. 

“Malaysia is cheap compared to Arab countries, it offers many wonderful qualities such as … friendly people, and many of the locals can speak and understand English,” Ziad told Arab News. 

Lamenting the lack of greenery in much of the Arab world, he added: “Among the places of attraction (in Malaysia) is Cameron Highlands for its beautiful nature. Many Arabs also like to go to Perhentian and Redang islands for their clear water, as many seas in the Arab world are polluted. Besides that, Arab tourists are drawn to cities such as Melaka and Penang for their multiculturalism.” 

Malaysia’s year-round summer weather is an important factor as many visitors come during winter in their country, he said. 

The biggest spenders in Malaysia are tourists from Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE, Oman, Iran and Kuwait.

“Many Arabs love to spend on shopping (and) they find Malaysia cheap,” said Ziad, adding that they also spend a lot on food, hotels and transportation. 

The government is trying to attract more Arabs to the country as part of the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, which aims to attract 30 million tourists by next year. 

Malaysia’s tourism, arts and culture minister said Arab media are “actively promoting” the country “as a tourist destination, and a radio station in Dubai was even airing a tourism package on Malaysia no fewer than 20 times daily.”


Failed raid against El Chapo’s son leaves 8 dead in Mexico

Updated 18 October 2019

Failed raid against El Chapo’s son leaves 8 dead in Mexico

Failed raid against El Chapo’s son leaves 8 dead in Mexico
CULIACAN, Mexico: Mexican security forces aborted an attempt to capture a son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after finding themselves outgunned in a ferocious shootout with cartel henchmen that left at least eight people dead and more than 20 wounded, authorities said Friday.
The gunbattle Thursday paralyzed the capital of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, Culiacan, and left the streets littered with burning vehicles. Residents took cover indoors as automatic gunfire raged outside.
It was the third bloody and terrifying shootout in less than a week between security forces and cartel henchmen, raising questions about whether President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy of avoiding the use of force and focusing on social ills is working.
López Obrador defended the decision to back down, saying his predecessors’ strategy “turned this country into a cemetery, and we don’t want that anymore.”
But Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration who worked undercover in Mexico, called the violence “a massive black eye to the Mexican government” and a “sign that the cartels are more powerful” than it is.
Streets in Culiacan, a city of over 800,000, remained blocked with torched cars Friday morning, schools were closed, and some public offices asked their employees to stay home. Few buses were running.
Teresa Mercado, who had just returned to her native Culiacan on Thursday, said: “This is worse than what I had lived through years ago.”
Authorities said 35 troops arrived at a home Thursday afternoon to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López on a 2018 extradition request from the US They entered the home, where Guzman and three others were inside.
Heavily armed men in greater force surrounded the house and also unleashed mayhem elsewhere, taking over toll booths and main roads into the city. Men carrying high-caliber weapons blocked major intersections.
Amid the chaos, inmates at a prison rioted, seized weapons from guards and fled. Fifty-six prisoners escaped, and 49 were still at large Friday, according to Sinaloa Public Security Secretary Cristóbal Castañeda. Two guards were taken captive and later freed.
Videos on social media showed a scene resembling a war zone, with gunmen, some in black ski masks, riding in the back of trucks and firing mounted machine guns as smoke rose above the cityscape. People ran for cover as gunfire rattled around them, and motorists drove frantically in reverse, trying to escape the bullets.
Five attackers, a member of the National Guard, a civilian and a prisoner died in the gunbattles, Defense Secretary Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval said. He said seven members of the security forces were wounded and eight held captive before being released unharmed.
The government’s security cabinet made the decision to withdraw the troops to avoid greater loss of life.
“The capture of one criminal cannot be worth more than the lives of people. They made the decision and I supported it,” López Obrador said. He added: “We do not want deaths. We do not want war.”
Security cabinet officials said they were not informed about the operation beforehand. They said troops surrounded the house without a search warrant and came under fire before one could be delivered, at that point deciding to enter without the warrant. And they said the troops underestimated the cartel’s response.
Sandoval said that if the security cabinet had known about the operation, it would have gone about it differently and deployed more troops and even sent air support.
“This group ... rushed things. It did not consider the consequences,” he said.
It was not clear what happened to Guzmán after the troops left. Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said he was never under formal detention. José Luis González Meza, a lawyer for the Guzman family, said he was told Ovidio is “alive and free.”
José Reveles, the author of several books on the Sinaloa cartel, said the operation was done clumsily from both an operational and a political standpoint.
“If the government says it did not know anything, that’s absolutely unheard of, and especially for an operation of this magnitude,” Reveles said. “If you’re going to do an operation of this size, you should do it right — guard all flanks, add security in the prison.”
At the same time, he allowed that “doing a surgical operation there is impossible; the strength of the Sinaloa cartel was made clear.”
Vigil, the former DEA agent, worried that the retreat could lead to more bloodshed.
“This is going to set an example for the other groups,” Vigil said. “It sends them the message that if they capture a member of the cartel, all they have to do is go in the city and intimidate the citizenry and security forces.”
The elder Guzman is serving a life sentence in the US after being convicted last February of industrial-scale drug trafficking.
Ovidio is not one of the drug lord’s best-known sons. Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán are known as “Los Chapitos,” or “the little Chapos,” and are believed to be running their father’s cartel together with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
But Ovidio Guzmán was indicted in 2018 in Washington, along with a fourth brother, on charges of trafficking cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
Gunbattles between gangs and security forces are relatively common in Mexico, but this week has seen three notable and frightening clashes. On Monday, 13 police officers were killed in a cartel ambush in the state of Michoacan, and the following day soldiers killed 14 gunmen while losing one of their own in neighboring Guerrero state.