Langkawi Make A Strong Pitch For Tourism

Langkawi with its white sandy beaches, pristine sea water and sunshine throughout the year, could be an ideal destination for high-spending foreign tourists.
This potential has not been fully tapped in the past; however, the Langkawi tourism planners are now making a strong pitch to court foreign tourists.

Tourism is the biggest source of revenue for the state and assumes an important role for the state's economy.

Kamaruzaman Abdul Ghani, General Manager of the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), who looks after tourism promotion, highlighted the state's natural attributes as an ideal destination in an interview with Bernama.

"We're giving high priority to building and expanding our infrastructure to accommodate the growth expected in tourism inflow. We've already develop the airport and seaport. We're getting funds out of our state budget but also from the national development budget," he said.

Eventhough the Langkawi International Airport in Padang Mat Sirat has been oversized, Ghani said there was a need to upgrade the airport facilities.

Langkawi Make A Strong Pitch For Tourism

He said talks were proceeding apace with foreign airlines to fly to and from Langkawi.

"We are currently talking to Korean Air. We are also trying to start a Langkawi-Bangkok flight with Air Asia. This would increase traffic amongst those tourists who, for example, want to fly to Langkawi after spending time in Thailand," he said.

Langkawi also has direct chartered flights with Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong and Shenzen (South China). LADA hopes that other airlines will emulate this example.

"The key to boosting tourism is connectivity. You provide connectivity and tourism gets a strong boost," he said.

Kamaruzaman said China's growing prosperity has benefited Langkawi's tourism as more and more Chinese come to Langkawi.

One of the interesting attributes of Langkawi as a tourist destination is its ability to provide facilities for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector.

The Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) show, held in Langkawi in December 2005, attracted "huge crowds" of exhibitors and trade visitors from around the world, he said.

Though it is much smaller and not yet fully known in the western world, LIMA has the potential to become a major regional event, if it is groomed and developed by the organisers.

The Asean Tourism Forum has also raised Langkawi's stature in the regional context.

Langkawi's MICE sector has also benefited from the existence of hotels such as Sheraton Langkawi and the brand new Four Seasons' Resort with its imposing architecture with the strong Moorish influence.

Peter Foreman, Sheraton Langkawi's Sales Director, said the hotel has upgraded its facilities which are also aimed to attract MICE participants.

CITROEN U.K. held a major incentive event at the hotel which gets business from Europe, Australia and West Asia.

"MICE provides 35 to 40 per cent of our business," Foreman told Bernama.

Besides the sun and sea, he said, Langkawi was perceived as a safe destination compared with Thailand and Indonesia.

Indeed, he said, Langkawi is emerging as the "new Bali".

"Being a duty-free island, Langkawi also attracts tourists keen to do shopping," he said.

Royal Rowe, General Manager of the newly-constructed Four Seasons' Resort, exuded confidence over the "magnificent property" added to the landscape of Langkawi.

Imposing architecture with Moorish motif and an intricately designed restaurant from where the guests can stop directly on to the sandy beaches, can easily pose as an irresistable temptation to the young and old alike.

"Most super-luxury hotels in Asia lack banquet facilities. We have paid meticulous attention to banquet halls equipped with the state-of-the-art technology.

"In the incentive sector, where we have a lot of our business, we can offer beautiful settings and create amazing events. Our four ethnic cuisines Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai have been much appreciated by our guests," said Rowe, a veteran in the hotel business with profound knowledge of Asia.

Four Seasons is very keen to attract tourists to Langkawi, he said.

Rowe disclosed that a major Bollywood film with superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor was going to be shot at his hotel in March.

"Malaysia is very popular amongst Bollywood film makers," he said.

Langkawi International Airport has also been gearing itself to accommodating the rise in tourism traffic expected.

After a renovation carried out at a cost of RM86 million in 1996 for the terminal, the airport embarked on a RM75 million modernisation of the runway to accommodate the B747 aircraft.

"We can also accommodate the latest A380 aircraft but we need to upgrade and widen our runway," said Mohd Suhaimi Abdul Mubin, the airport manager.

The airport is used by Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Silk Air, Cathay Pacific, Fin Air, Uzbekistan Airline, Demo Dencou and Koshetau.

According to LADA, Langkawi received 2.1 million tourists in 2004; this figure declined to 1.8 million last year because of a number of external factors such as the tsunami, the bird flu, the unrest in Southern Thailand and a general fear amongst western tourists to fly to exotic destinations.

"But this year, we expect better results," avers a confident LADA spokesman.