NEW YORK, Sept 20 — Despite uncertainties that still plague the US economy and the enormous geographical distance, tourism traffic to Malaysia from the United States surged in the first half of 2012.
According to Tourism Malaysia’s New York office, Malaysia received 119,528 arrivals from the US between January and June of 2012, an 18.9 per cent growth over the corresponding period last year.
Indeed, this growth was the third highest amongst the top 10 long-haul markets, after France’s 20.6 per cent (68,530 arrivals) and Russia’s 28.2 per cent (24,198).
In absolute terms, the United Kingdom is, traditionally, the largest source of traffic amongst the long-haul markets; it provided 196,738 arrivals, posting a 5.9 per cent growth rate.
Juggling with figures, vice-president at the New York office of Tourism Malaysia, Salahuddin Mohd Ariffin, pointed out some characteristics of the American traffic.
“Americans visiting peninsular Malaysia tend to spend over a week in Malaysia and, usually, combine it with another destination, possibly Bali or Thailand.
“But if an American tourist is visiting Borneo, then he will not, usually, combine it with another destination.
“Borneo in itself will consume all his time because of its sheer natural splendour, pristine beaches and wildlife. Americans recognise Borneo as a brand,” Salahuddin said in an interview with Bernama in his New York office.
Scuba diving is a favourite past time while vacationing in Borneo. Americans also like to explore city life, try out different cuisines in Borneo, etc.
“Sabah and Sarawak are good selling points because of their unique beauty, wildlife, nature, etc.,” Salahuddin said.
He pointed out that the latest figures from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industry (OTTI) of the US Department of Commerce revealed that during the first half of the year, some 2.20 million Americans had visited Asia (mainly India, Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, and the Far East) posting a 9.1 per cent growth while Europe recorded only 5.6 per cent growth in the same period.
With growing trade and business ties between the US and Asean, American travellers will increasingly visit the Asean region, including Malaysia. “The United States is a market inherent with good growth potential,” Salahuddin said.
But Americans are also demanding about good service in hotels, restaurants, taxis, tourist services, etc.
For Salahuddin, the lack of direct air-connectivity between the east coast and Malaysia does not pose a hindrance because there are a host of airlines that offer convenient connections to Malaysia. Many US visitors take Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, etc. to travel to Malaysia via the respective national hubs of these airlines, he said.
Tourism Malaysia’s New York office has been set a target of 235,000 tourist arrivals from the United States by its head office for the year 2012. “We already had 119,528 arrivals from the US during the first six months of the year, exceeding half of the targeted tourist arrivals. We are, so far, happy with the trend,” Salahuddin said.
In 2011, Malaysia received 216,755 visitors from the United States, generating revenue of about US$243.2 million (RM744.6 million), according to Tourism Malaysia. Unlike in Europe, where people tend to tighten their belts during an economic downturn, Americans continue to be big spenders.
Malaysia benefited as a destination with the airing by Discovery Channel of a reality show called “American Chopper: Senior vs Junior”, highlighting the visit to Malaysia by Paul Teutul Sr, the founder of Orange County Choppers which manufactures motorcycles in New York.
Teutul Sr, who visited Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, designed a so-called 1Malaysia Chopper which was unveiled in March 2012 and featured in Discovery’s television show.
The special motorbike was created to mark an initiative by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to uphold a strong cultural harmony within Malaysia conforming to the 1Malaysia concept.
Teutul Sr returned from Malaysia praising its “cultural diversity and its very friendly people”. “Mr Teutul’s positive comments about Malaysia being an attractive destination helped further improve Malaysia’s image,” Salahuddin said.
Another personality, Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity host for the television series called “No Reservations” in the Travel Channel focusing on food, helped promote Malaysia as a food destination.
Bourdain, who visited Malaysia earlier this year, heaped praise on Malaysia’s culinary diversity, thus enhancing its appeal as a culinary destination. — Bernama