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.”