Malaysia, Singapore plan packages to woo back Indians

Tuesday, 27 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Malaysia and Singapore, which saw the inflow of travellers from India drop sharply because of SARS, are once again luring holidaying Indians with attractive packages.

"Up till March we had a good flow of people from India to Malaysia. But during the peak of SARS fears, the perception of Malaysia being among the affected countries saw a drop of around 40 percent in the flow of traffic from India," Bhupesh Kumar, marketing manager of the Malaysian Tourism Board, told IANS.

"Since the last few days, going by the increase in number of requests for visas, we are well on the road to recovery. There has been considerable rise in Malaysian Airlines traffic also," said Kumar.

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, has claimed over 680 lives worldwide, with East and Southeast Asia being the worst affected. But the spread of the acute pneumonia has now slowed, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to lift travel advisories to some areas in the affected regions.

In 2002, around 183,000 Indians holidayed in Malaysia. While the decline in traffic in April may bring down the overall number this year, the country is finalising plans to add more incentives and revive its Showcase Malaysia package that was offering a three-night, four-day hotel stay free for every two bookings on its national airlines.

"Though the package was only till May 20, we are reviving it with value additions to woo back leisure travellers, particularly from India, which is a focus market considering the increase in traffic we have had from here," said Kumar.

The Singapore Tourism Board too is firming up plans to launch an attractive incentive offer.

"We will be coming out with specialised packages to be offered through travel agents and airlines to push up numbers. After a good showing in March, during April and May we have had around 55 percent decline in traffic from India," said Neeraj Dhawan, officer in charge of the north India region for the Singapore Tourism Board.

Dhawan said contrary to reports, there was no total wipe-out of leisure travellers to Singapore during the last two months, though their number was considerably less than business travellers.

The flow has started picking up again and Singapore hopes the special packages will quicken the pace.

Maharaj T.S. Wahi, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said the issuing or lifting of travel advisories no longer abruptly halted or revived tourist flow to any country.

He cited the example of Sri Lanka, where a truce between the government and secessionist guerrillas last year resulted in travel advisories being withdrawn. But the island nation had to work hard and offer several incentives to woo back visitors.

"Sri Lanka's efforts were not only able to reverse the trend and attract a good number of tourists but also help recover its image as a good travel destination and keep it alive on the global tourism map. In the case of Southeast Asian countries, much will depend on the publicity they generate," said Wahi.

Added an official of Trac Representation (India) Pvt. Ltd., which is affiliated to the tourism boards of several countries: "It is still too early to judge the long term impact (of SARS).

"While travel to these (Southeast Asian) countries continued on a lower scale, much will depend on how these destinations are re-marketed in the coming days," added the Trac representative.

Source: IANS
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