Spotlight on Malaysia
12 May 2021
HOW IS LIFE IN Malaysia AT THE MOMENT?
In Malaysia, COVID-19 cases continue to rise sporadically with extensive testing and tracing programs in place to identify and contain hotspots for transmission in the community. The Malaysian Government implements regional Conditional Movement Control Orders (CMCO) as required in identified hot spots. Over Ramadan all domestic travel was banned, curtailing the traditional family visits over the period.
Consumers are naturally cautious when travelling and learning to adjust to the changing CMCO requirements as part of the new normal.
The Malaysian Government has set a target of vaccinating 80 per cent of the population by December 2021. Vaccination enrolments are slowly starting to increase as the Ministry of Health implements programs to increase the rate of vaccination across the country.
Despite the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the GDP is forecast to rebound between 5 and 7 per cent in 2021 and consumer confidence index amongst Malaysians remains high at 105 points for the first quarter of 2021.
Changing consumer behaviours have seen a significant increase in online purchasing with The Malaysian Central Bank reporting RM10.2 billion domestic spending on credit cards in July 2020, nearly double from RM5.3 billion in April 2020.
Domestic travel has improved since April 2020, with over six million domestic trips taken since the initial round of travel bans and restrictions were imposed.
Consumer spending on household and luxury items is nearly double due to COVID-19.
All this indicates a relatively cashed up population, high travel demand and a consumer looking to indulge in high end goods and experiences.
WHAT IS THE LATEST NEWS FROM OUR KEY STAKEHOLDERS IN MARKET?
After 15 months of closed international borders, several travel agencies have reduced their team capacity or opened new non-travel businesses to retain their core teams. Government initiatives supporting the travel and retail sectors have been extended to December 2021.
To further encourage domestic tourism, the government has extended the exemption for tourism tax and services tax for hotel accommodation until 31 December 2021. It has also announced an entertainment duty exemption for entrance fees into entertainment premises including theme parks, stage performances, sports events, and movie screenings within Federal Territories.
As the vaccination program gathers pace, travel industry players have increased their social media presence through ads and/or virtual tours supported by the respective National Tourism Organisation (NTO) of the destinations featured.
Key stakeholders have also taken this period to enhance to capabilities and team skills. Malaysia Airlines has introduced a new group booking app for agents, new lifestyle partners to support their loyalty programme as well as the trialling of the IATA Travel Pass app.
Key Distribution Partners also conducted consumer surveys to further understand the change in travel behaviour post COVID-19 in helping them to develop new product or travel itineraries to drive future demand. Some noticeable trends such as group travel are expected to be a vital sector for safety conscious consumers; quality travel vs quantity, purposeful trips, off-the-beaten-path nature destinations, travel in small groups, more road trips and travel unhindered (health and safety protocols); exclusivity for incentive groups.
A limited number of partners have already run conversion campaigns for destinations including Australia even though there is no firm travel date. Trade partners have also seen an increase in corporate planning/enquiries for travel from the end of 2021.
All key stakeholders in market remain committed to support Australia in the medium to longer term. We continue to have positive discussions with senior leaders in the airlines and Key Distribution Partners with the intention of being ready with new product when the international borders re-open.
WHAT ARE TOURISM AUSTRALIA’S KEY AREAS OF FOCUS IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES?
During the pandemic, most consumers are restricted with their movement and as a result, spending a lot of time on social media, catching up on news and content in the digital space. We took this once in a lifetime opportunity to present a deeper and broader Australian tourism offering to this captive audience.
We were the first NTO to aggressively invest in creating aspiration for travel to Australia with the ‘With Love from Aus’ campaign, ‘Live from Aus’, 360-degree videos and the introduction of 8D videos. We have covered a broad range of content across various themes, such as conscious travel, wildlife and nature, be the first, road trips and gourmet adventure which has allowed us to reach over 44 million travel enthusiasts. This has identified willing travellers to target once borders reopen.
The results of these activities have been reflected in the latest Consumer Demand Project results, showing Australia is closing the gap on key competitor, Japan, in both consideration as a destination and intention to travel in the next four years.
To further boost travel desire, we supported the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for the ‘Australia Now’ campaign through the broadcast partnership opportunities leveraging talent already in Australia, Adam Liaw for the Heritage Kitchen series.
Our Aussie Specialist Trainer, Huey Ching has trained more than 5000 Aussie Specialist over 40 webinars during the pandemic and we are engaging the trade through interesting virtual events involving State and Territory Organisations (STOs) and Australian industry. Aligned to our content and PR activities, Aussie Specialist training has focused upon ensuring these highly engaged agents are able ready to sell Australia when borders reopen. A series of Virtual Reengagement meetings with key partners lead by Karen Saw and Akmar Kassim were overwhelmingly received by the Key Distribution Partners, Aussie Specialists and STOs. Trade partners have shown great enthusiasm for Australia via Marketplace Online event and the upcoming Australian Tourism Exchange Online (ATE21).
Tourism Australia ran a pilot conversion campaign with Key Distribution Partner, Apple Vacations, from 1 to 11 October 2020, the Travel Recovery Campaign. The campaign encouraged consumers to buy now and travel later and was a huge success, with 57 per cent of the 1,150 available packages being sold on the first day of the campaign. Additional gateways and departures were added to cater for demand and 100 per cent of 1,500 seats were sold by the end of the campaign. Australia bookings achieved 106 per cent against target. These engagement levels, even as people cannot travel, are encouraging and we cannot wait to welcome our consumers back to Australia.
There are also the ongoing efforts with our aviation and distribution partners in segmenting their existing customer base and targeting them for specific and appealing Australian holiday ideas.
IN THESE TRYING TIMES, WE COULD ALL DO WITH SOME GOOD NEWS. WHAT HAS PUT A SMILE ON YOUR FACE RECENTLY?
The significant pent-up demand for travel is encouraging. When domestic travel was first reopened in Malaysia, there was an overwhelming demand for staycations at luxury and premium accommodation and there continues to be long waiting lists for fine dining restaurants, demonstrating how eager Malaysian consumers are to travel and have different experiences.
The high engagement across all our activities from both consumer or trade; the success of the pilot conversion campaign - Apple Vacation; closing the gap in the purchase funnel against our key competitor, Japan; realising new trends post COVID; and untapping new opportunities and markets. This has kept us all busy, encouraged, and optimistic. The sleeping tiger is about to awake!
FINALLY, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THE AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY WANTING TO STAY ENGAGED WITH THE Malaysia MARKET?
Change is constant, we strongly encourage the Australian industry to stay engaged, participate in virtual trainings and trade events organised by Tourism Australia. We ask you to help facilitate the launch of new products, experiences and destinations taking the opportunity to change the perception of an Australian holiday to resonate with the new-aged Malaysian traveller. Get your rates ready for ATE21 and we look forward to your support in helping us convert demand to sustain the industry prior to full reopening.
As a mid-haul destination, Australia is one of the closest and most familiar destinations for many Malaysians. The high rates of visiting friends and relatives, student travel, business travellers and high numbers of repeat leisure travellers combined with the good weather all year round, means that Australia holds significant appeal for Malaysian visitors and there will be a great opportunity to capitalise on this once the borders open.