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1 Jan, 2001

New Malaysian Resort Launches Marketing Pitch in Thailand

The launch of a marketing campaign by a Malaysian highland resort in Bangkok last week has opened a new chapter in the promotion of intra-regional ASEAN travel, expected to be a big winner if global tourism does not plunge into crisis next year.

Mr Zulkifly Said, Director, Tourism Malaysia, hailed it as the first time during his nearly three-year tenure that a private Malaysian company has made an independent marketing pitch to Thai visitors. Most private sector promotions have been under the umbrella of the national or state tourist offices.

Either way, he said he would welcome more Malaysian tourism companies following suit, especially as 30 million baht of their tax money is being spent in Thailand on marketing Malaysia via TV, billboards and media advertising.

For the Bukit Tinggi Resort, too, it was the first step in a totally revamped marketing campaign. Rather than rush to Japan, Australia or Europe, the traditional source-markets to which most travel industry companies turn when selling their products, General Manager Ms Teh Ming Wah first decided to target Thailand.

“It seemed to make sense,” she said. “Thailand is the second largest source of visitor arrivals to Malaysia after Singapore. The Thai economy appears to be in good shape and there is still a lot of interest in outbound travel, especially incentive travel for companies.”

There is another reason; the five-year-old Resort has just received a license to operate 250 slot machines for its gaming centre due to open next February and Ms Teh knows that Thai travellers are tiring of the older and well-worn facilities at their traditional gambling haunt, the Genting Highlands.

Built by Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan, a close friend of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, the Bukit Tinggi resort has cost 600 million ringgit (6.8 billion baht) and comprises of a French-themed hotel, a Japanese village, a rabbit park and a golf and country club. More than 500 million ringgit is to be spent on adding the casino as well as a six-star Japanese spa and a French castle.

Mr. Tan, whose business empire also includes the Malaysian franchise for Starbucks, recently took the Bukit Tinggi resort out from under the marketing wing of the Berjaya Hotels and Resorts group, which he also owns, because it did not fit in with the beach-resorts profile of the other resort hotels.

Located about 3,000 metre above sea level, the entire resort is now run by a team headed by Ms Teh, a former banker who previously managed the Philip Wain health clubs in Malaysia. She says Mr. Tan felt her experience would bring in some fresh ideas, especially to develop and market the upcoming Tatami spa, claimed to be the first Japanese spa outside Japan.

After spending the last six months sprucing up the product so that it lives up to the customer promise, Ms Teh said she revamped the marketing plan to focus nearly exclusively on the Asia-Pacific countries, especially India and China.

She that although Thai visitors to Malaysia are rising rapidly, they were virtually non-existent on the resort’s customer profile which is dominated by domestic Malaysian visitors, Singaporeans, Taiwanese and Hong Kong visitors.

She spent nearly 100,000 baht on the marketing event in Thailand which included a media conference, presentations to Thai tour operators and study stops at some of Bangkok’s better known spas. That same amount of money would buy her virtually no exposure in high-cost Europe or Japan.

“The fact that many Thai tour operators now know about us already makes this visit a success,” she said. “We have learnt a lot about the way they package their Malaysian products and we will soon be helping them with special packages, prices and promotions to feature the Bukit Tinggi resort, too.”

Mr. Zulkifly said he needs more Malaysian tour companies to step up their profile in Thailand. “We need more intra-ASEAN travel,” he said. “The future of the long-haul market (from Europe and North America) does not look good. This is a good time for us in ASEAN to restructure and rethink the way we do our marketing.”

He noted that the long-standing deficit in the balance of arrivals between Thailand and Malaysia is narrowing. In 2001, Malaysian visitor arrivals to Thailand totalled 1,161,490, up 11.5% over 2000. In January-September 2002, the figure was 950,933, up 11.6%.

In turn, Thais visiting Malaysia totalled 1,018,797 in 2001, up 8.4% over 2000. In January-October 2002, the figure was 951,528, up 5%.

Mr. Zulkifly said the higher the bilateral tourism flow, the more the chances that it will address one of the long-standing problems affecting growth; the shortage of airline capacity. Flights between the two countries are dominated by THAI and Malaysian Airlines which have a joint services agreement that keeps a lid on seat-capacity, leading to fares that are less competitive than those between Bangkok-Singapore, a sector with nearly 10 airlines flying.

An attempt by Air Andaman to launch a Bangkok-Haad Yai-KL route on November 8 fell through after only a few flights because of problems at the Malaysian end, Mr. Zulkifly said.

However, the move by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to forge closer links between the Thai and Malaysian cabinets is expected to further boost bilateral trade and travel. Authorities are also working closely under the aegis of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle subregional grouping to facilitate cross-border contacts.

Promotion of intra-ASEAN travel is also one of the major policy planks of the ASEAN tourism ministers who are due to meet in Cambodia next month for their annual forum. The ministers will be looking at ways to breathe some life into a new tourism agreement signed by the ASEAN heads of state at their summit last November in the face of problems being created for global tourism by the war on terror.

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