Exclusive Interview: Mohamed Nazri Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia

During the recent travel show IFTM Top Resa in Paris which took place from September 26 to 29, Malaysia Minister of Tourism and Culture Dato Mohamed Nazri bin Adul Aziz was present to reaffirm Malaysia’s commitment towards European outbound markets. He granted Asean.travel an exclusive interview.

Tourism year 2017 was all about the new tourism tax. Why did the government decide about its introduction?

Dato Mohamed Nazri- With the plunge in oil and gas revenues coupled with a de facto devaluation of our national currency, the treasury department implemented big budget cuts in many ministries. We experienced cuts in our budget in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This translated at the end by a 37% reduction in funds for us. We then had to think about ways to get our budget back to a more accurate level to continue promoting our country. The decision to introduce a tourism tax on foreign traveller’s overnight was the most balanced decision to be taken….

The tax has been revised twice. How is it now implemented on travellers?

D.M.N.- We debated and finally agreed on a single tax per room and per night. It has been fixed at RM10, which corresponds to a US$2.50 or €2.20. I believe the tax is reasonable for foreign travellers, especially compared to existing taxes in other countries. However, it means a lot for us. We think that next year, the tax will generate some RM112 million, equivalent to US$25 million. With government’s budget funding, we should be back to a total envelop of over RM250 million, equivalent to US$55 million. The fund will then be used for tourism marketing and tourism infrastructure development.

Your ministry closed many offices abroad in the last two years. Will you revert the trend with the expected increase in budget?

D.M.N.- In the past, our policy was to open offices where our national carrier Malaysia Airlines used to fly. Of course, the situation changed dramatically as MAS is today only flying to London in Europe and has even no flights for now to the United States. We will at least reopen two offices by next year: Madrid, because of the presence of the UNWTO and Milan. We although think about being back to Stockholm. On the domestic front, each State of Malaysia is incredibly dynamic. For example, many States organised every year a ‘State Visit Year’ event. In 2017, ‘Visit Year’ events were organised in Perak, Pahang and Terengganu.

How is tourism is going so far this year?

D.M.N.- We saw until May a slight growth of 0.6% of total arrivals compared to the same period of 2016. We hope to see the growth now accelerating especially as we relaunch our marketing initiatives. This year, we followed UNWTO recommendation to promote sustainable tourism. We put special emphasis on promoting our UNESCO natural heritage sites such as Kinabalu National Park and Mulu National Park in Borneo. Flora, fauna, nature, open-air activities and homestay programmes are our focus for now.

What are your new marketing initiatives for the years to come?

D.M.N.- This year is already the start for the preparation and planning of a new Visit Malaysia Year targeted for 2020 with the goal to grow our tourist figures by 20% to around 36 million international arrivals. In 2019, our biggest marketing event will be our participation to ITB Berlin as an official partner with many special events organized before, during and after what is considered as the world’s largest travel show. We already signed an MoU with ITB organizers.