Arabs shun terrorism-stricken United States for Malaysia’s charms
KUALA LUMPUR: Tourists from the Middle East, tired of being viewed as potential terrorists on visits to the United States and Europe, are flocking to Malaysia’s shopping malls and beaches this summer.
Lured to this mainly-Muslim Southeast Asian nation by canny advertising campaigns touting the country’s range of attractions from glitzy designer stores to jungle-clad island resorts, a growing number of Arabs are pumping cash into the nation’s coffers.
Nearly 30,000 visited during the first five months of this year and the summer holidays are expected to see a spike in visitors, with women in black chador already a common sight among the mini-skirted local Chinese minority on Kuala Lumpur’s streets. “My wife and I decided to avoid going to Europe and America after what happened after September 11. It’s difficult to get visas now anyway,” said Mohamad Khalid from Saudi Arabia, who was shopping in the central Bukit Bintang area. “We heard about Malaysia, the people are nice, it’s much cheaper than Europe and it’s good for a nice family holiday,” he said.
Another Saudi, Nora Ali, said: “Visiting the US has become a problem. It takes a long time to get visas and I don’t really want to go there anyway. I’m scared to go to a country where people are rude to us. Now, more and more Arabs are transferring to Asia for their holidays.” She chose Malaysia after hearing “so much about the easy life in Malaysia, the friendly people and the fact that it’s a Muslim country”.
Mansoor Almansoori from Dubai said: “Post 9/11, the US is no longer a hub for Muslims to vacation. People’s attitudes are very different now, Americans are not nice to Arabs or Muslims.”
Muslim women wearing the veil were seen as potential terrorists, his wife said from behind her black veil. While Malaysia could never beat Dubai for its shopping, Almansoori said he was faintly surprised that “Malaysia is a very developed country” and also noted the weather was slightly better than Dubai’s in the summer.
He and his wife were enjoying the final few days of their trip, he said, after visiting the islands of Langkawi and Penang and the hill-station resort of Genting Highlands.
Iranian Fahed Almysd said the relative cool of Malaysian weather - at 33 degrees celsius - provided longed-for relief from the 50 degrees in Iran. “We heard all about Malaysia from TV and magazines. Malaysians are well-known for their hospitality,” he said. He and his wife ended a shopping spree in the vast mall under the Petronas Twin Towers, until recently the world’s highest buildings.
Arrivals from Saudi Arabia grew 28 percent in the first five months of this year, according to government statistics, which also showed 38 percent more Kuwaitis had visited along with 30 percent more tourists from the United Arab Emirates. Hotels and resorts are making special efforts to make the visitors feel at home. The popular Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel has seven Arabic-speaking guest service officers and has flown in five students from the Lebanese-American University this summer to hold weekly lessons on Middle Eastern etiquette and teach basic Arabic phrases to local staff, said marketing director Farizal Jaafar.
“We do see an increasing number of Middle Eastern tourists between June to September every year. We saw 10,000 room nights by Middle Eastern guests in 2003 during that period and we expect a 35 percent increase this year,” he said. “It’s so that our Arab guests feel at ease.
Their comfort level is so important to us. You have to provide personal attention, it makes them feel at home,” he said. Other hotels are also catering to the needs of the well-heeled Middle Eastern tourists, who spend more than double the average tourist, according to Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad. afp