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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is focusing its promotional efforts on millennial and Gen Z travelers from the Middle East, the tourism minister tells Arab News, as the country sets out to revive its pandemic-shattered hotel sector .

The Muslim-majority nation, which markets itself abroad as an ideal holiday destination, with a multi-ethnic culture, lush rainforests and pristine beaches, suffered a heavy blow when it closed its borders to foreign visitors in 2020 and remained isolated until April this year. .

Malaysia is popular among visitors from the Middle East and has been ranked among the top destinations in the Global Muslim Travel Index since 2015.

To boost post-pandemic arrivals, its marketing efforts are now focusing on visitors from the demographic cohorts known as Generation Z – those born between the late 1990s and the 2000s – and Millennials – born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s.

Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri told Arab News in a recent interview that Millennials and Gen Z tourists are “two of the most influential groups of Muslim travelers who will shape future market trends.”

Outlining the country’s promotional strategy, the minister said these groups of Middle Eastern travelers are “often classified as being adventurous and more open-minded in their choice of holiday activities, while respecting their religious obligations”. .

Shukri explained that the term “adventurous” extends beyond sports-related activities, such as hiking, climbing and diving”, and also refers to “cultural exchanges and interaction with the environment” – from planting trees and bird watching to attending local festivals and learning local languages.

To meet the needs of Millennials and Gen Z visitors to the Middle East, the country is trying to promote niche tourism products such as ecotourism and adventure travel, but also volunteering and others. activities consistent with sustainable tourism practices – travel experiences that include concern for social and environmental issues, as well as the well-being of host communities.

“It is observed that Muslim travellers, including (from) the Middle Eastern traveler market, now have a more sophisticated need for spiritually fulfilling and transformative travel experiences that could enrich their lives,” Shukri said.

“Activities like volunteering and socializing with the destination community at local festivals, for example, can create a treasured memory that enhances their travel experience. It is an example of how tourism can be linked to sustainability.

Hopes of attracting visitors from the Middle East are high after the Arabian Travel Market, an annual tourism event in Dubai, held from May 9-12.

The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism took part in the event with its Tourism Malaysia and Islamic Tourism Center, as well as local tourist boards, travel agencies and representatives of resorts and hotels.

“The feedback from ATM 2022 has been huge and overwhelming,” Shukri said, adding that sales of 34.5 million Malaysian ringgits ($7.8 million) were generated during the four-day event. days.

“Industry players in the Middle East have been intrigued by Malaysia’s recognition of Muslim-friendly accommodation, developed by ITC, which helps tourists easily identify hotels with Muslim-friendly facilities.”

Before the global pandemic, Malaysia received around 400,000 visitors from the Middle East in 2019. Travelers from Saudi Arabia led the arrivals, accounting for a quarter of visits.

The number of international visits to the Southeast Asian nation, where tourism had contributed 13% of the national economy, has dropped significantly during the pandemic, with fewer than 135,000 visitors in 2021, down from 26.1 million in 2019.

As it seeks to revive its tourism sector, Malaysia has set a 2022 target of 4.5 million visitors and $2.5 billion in revenue.

So far, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism, 2.38 million foreigners have visited the country this year, mainly arriving from India, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

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