Not-So-Far East

A report from PATA Travel Mart in Malaysia

By: Jonathan Siskin

The upsurge in tourism to Asia and the Pacific was reflected in record attendance at the 28th Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Travel Mart held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sept. 27-30. The most important contracting and networking travel event of the year in the Asia/Pacific region attracted 375 buyers from 54 countries and 704 sellers from 37 nations altogether there was a 9 percent increase in buyer delegates from 20 percent more countries than were at last year’s travel mart in Bangkok. There was also a notable increase in sellers from Malaysia, Australia, India and the Maldives.

The host venue was the new Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC), a sparkling 65,000-square-foot facility that opened this past June. It is part of a 100-acre “city within a city” complex of buildings that includes the Petronas Twin Towers, a mammoth shopping center and three hotels. During a press conference Kamaruddin Siaraf, director general of Tourism Malaysia, spoke about the convention center as being key to the city’s future economic growth.

“The hosting of PATA at KLCC provides us with the opportunity to showcase our new state of the art convention center and dovetails into our promotional campaign to make Malaysia a choice destination for meetings and leisure travel to Asia,” he said.

Considerable marketing efforts are being focused on 2007, which has been designated “Visit Malaysia Year” (VMY). More than 19 million arrivals are expected during the yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence. While continuing to register steady growth from its top five short-haul markets (Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Brunei), Malaysia is targeting the U.S. as part of its overall strategy to revive long-haul markets. Malaysia Airlines is playing a key role in this promotion by revamping First and Golden Class cabins in its B747 and B777 service from Los Angeles and Newark to Kuala Lumpur.

Hotel occupancies in Kuala Lumpur are at a seven-year high, and major investors are showing confidence in the city’s future prospects. Noting that KL is becoming “a city of the world”, Capitaland, Southeast Asia’s largest developer, recently announced plans to build a $265 million Four Season hotel and apartment complex adjacent to the Petronas Towers.


China continues to lead the pack as the number-one tourism destination in Asia, and it is drawing increasing interest with the approach of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. PATA workshops on China, Russia and India attracted considerable attention from both buyers and sellers, as these three huge markets are expected to drive tourism growth in the Asia/Pacific region for many years to come.

Other popular destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau are spreading the word concerning new promotions and upcoming projects. The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is emphasizing its “2006 Discover Hong Kong Year” global marketing campaign that launched Oct. 19 in New York City, aiming to make Hong Kong the hottest “must see” destination in Asia. The number of U.S. visitors to Hong Kong surpassed one million for the first time this year, and 2006 may set another record year with new attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland, Hong Kong Wetland Park, Ngong Ping 360 (a new cable car ride to the world’s tallest outdoor Buddha) and AsiaWorld Expo.

This has also been a banner year for Singapore with just under 9 million arrivals, a 20 percent increase over last year. Looking toward the future, there is already considerable buzz concerning two huge gaming resorts on Marina Bay, slated to be completed in 2009, which will add an entirely new dimension to Singapore’s tourism infrastructure. The country is also making waves by expanding its port facilities to accommodate a steady up-turn in cruise passengers, which are expected to more than double to 1.2 million by 2010.

Macau also recorded a sharp up-turn in revenues in 2005 due to its expanding lineup of casino resorts and entertainment venues, including a diverse array of new restaurants, theaters and nightclubs. Six new casinos have opened since 1999 as gaming-related activities are currently bringing in approximately 70 percent of Macau’s annual income. While it seeks to become the “Las Vegas of the Orient,” Macau is also promoting its rich historical heritage, which was enhanced by the recent UNESCO decision to place its historic center on the World Heritage Site list.


Major players among hotels and airlines are bullish on both the short and long-term prospects for growth of the Asia/Pacific region. Many well-known upscale chains have recently opened or will soon be launching new properties led by big names like the Four Seasons its new 399-room hotel just opened in Hong Kong. Le Meridien announced the October re-opening of the Kao Lak Beach & Spa Resort in Phuket, Thailand, located near Lamru National Park, where the tsunami memorial will be built (see sidebar). Also just opened is the 327-room Le Meridien She Shan Shanghai, situated 40 minutes from the city center. Le Royal Meridien Shanghai downtown is scheduled to debut in summer 2006.

The new Airbus A380, the largest aircraft ever built with a 555-passenger capacity, has been ordered by several Asian carriers including Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines. Singapore will be the first carrier to begin operation of the A380 at the end of 2006. Airbus’ main competitor, Boeing, is marketing its new 787 Dreamliner to Asian carriers, and Korean Air has ordered 10 B787s to be delivered from 2009 to 2011 to be used on flights to the U.S. and Europe. Meanwhile, AirAsia is purchasing an additional 40 Airbus A320s the Malaysia-based budget carrier projects carrying 8 million passengers in 2005.

Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport is due to open for business in the second half of 2006. Billing itself as the “new aviation hub of southeast Asia,” it will be able to accommodate 45 million passengers a year during its initial phase of operation (it will eventually be able to handle up to 100 million passengers a year). With its main passenger terminal encompassing over 1.8 million square feet, it is five times larger than the present Bangkok International Airport and is equipped with docking piers for 120 aircrafts.


The construction of roads and railways across previously inaccessible regions is good news for clients planning visits to Asia. For example, traveling from Thailand to Vietnam via Laos is now more efficient and faster than ever following the recent opening of Highway No. 8, linking the three countries. After crossing the Mekong River by ferry from the city of Nakhon Phanom in northern Thailand, passengers board buses in the border town of Tha Kek for an eight-hour ride through Laos to Vinh on the Vietnamese coast. Vinh Highway 8 connects with Vietnam’s main Highway 1, which takes passengers north to Hanoi. This is a major development in the region because traveling overland from Thailand to Vietnam via Laos in one day was inconceivable prior to the completion of Highway 8.

One of the most ambitious engineering feats in history the construction of the highest railway in the world culminated with the laying of the last section of track this past October, linking the town of Golmudin in China’s Qinghai Province with Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. Built at a cost of over $6 billion, the new railway extends for 700 miles and reaches a maximum altitude of over 16,000 feet. Higher than Europe’s Mount Blanc, it also surpasses by 650 feet the railway in the Peruvian Andes of South America, formerly the world’s highest. Trial runs are scheduled to begin in summer 2006, with commercial service slated to begin in 2007. To maximize passenger comfort, the train cars, which are being constructed in Canada, will be pressurized to overcome the lack of oxygen at such heady heights.

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In his opening statement, PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong noted the resilience of the Asia Pacific travel industry and its ability to recover following one of the worst natural disasters in history on Dec. 26, 2004. He urged all delegates to spread the message worldwide that “tsunami affected destinations are open for business and travelers are welcome and needed. The livelihoods of ordinary people depend on your renewed faith in their destination and products.”

Meanwhile, Thailand has launched the Tsunami Memorial International Design Competition to commemorate the disaster and to honor those across the globe who provided assistance and relief to the victims; the competition is open to all architects, artists, designers and laypersons. According to Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapaniop, the Thai government has selected Khao Lak Lamru National Park in Phangnga, the hardest hit province, as the site where the memorial will be constructed.


One of the select groups of participating hotels housing PATA delegates was the Pan Pacific Kuala Lumpur, a 556-room, 30-story property that is 15 minutes from the KLCC. The prime accommodations are the suites and rooms on the four Pacific Floors (27-30), which provide exceptional personal service including express check-in and checkout, butler service and exclusive access to the Pacific Lounge on the top floor. Here, one can enjoy complimentary breakfast and pre-dinner cocktails along with complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks throughout the day (plus spectacular views of the Petronas Towers).

Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts has a total of 24 properties in 11 countries around Asia. The Pacific Room operates three properties in Malaysia (downtown, airport and the city of Johor Bahru) as well as hotels in Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are also properties in British Columbia, Hawaii and San Francisco.