Tourism Malaysia’s promotion is gaining momentum in China despite recent hiccups.

IT was the wee hours of the morning, but the arriving Chinese tourists on a charter flight from Wuhan at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 10 had smiles on their faces.

The flight, one of many during the year-long charter agreement between Tourism Malaysia and Hubei Wanda New Airlines Travel Services based in Wuhan, marks a symbolic new stage of the Malaysia-China tourism recovery plan following the disappearance of flight MH370 in early March.

“The Wuhan-Kuala Lumpur charter flight route is a major development to regain our footing in the China market and it reflects the strong, long-standing partnership that we have with our China counterparts,” says Tourism Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen.

Until recently, Tourism Malaysia had suspended its advertising and promotions in China during the critical weeks of the MH370 investigation.

“During that time, we maintained constant personal contact with our China partners, engaging with them and communicating with them, so as to uphold the relations that we had built over the years. They have been extremely supportive of our efforts, then and now,” says Dr Ng.

To reassure its partners of Malaysia’s commitment to tourism promotions, Tourism Malaysia started a series of familiarisation trips for CEOs of major tour operators in China. The first programme in the series took place from Apr 26 to May 3 and involved 10 major tour operators from northern China. The entourage visited places such Penang, Royal Belum Rainforest, Perhentian Island, Redang Island, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

By then, Tourism Malaysia’s promotional efforts had been shifted to second- and third-tier cities in China. Among the positive outcomes of the effort was the agreement for Hubei Wanda New Airlines Travel Services to offer thrice-weekly Wuhan-Kuala Lumpur charter services for the duration of one year. Discussions are also underway for Air China to resume its direct flights from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur.

Tourism Malaysia has since gone into full promotion gear in China by organising Free Independent Tourist seminars in Xian, Wuhan, Chengdu and Xiamen; supporting the Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) with their B2B (business-to-business) seminar with China travel agencies; and organising familiarisation trips to Malaysia for C-trip travel agents in Shanghai.

Tourism Malaysia is also working with AirAsia and AirAsia X on a tactical campaign in the second half of the year to promote Malaysia among the family, couples and singles segments.

“Globally, we are strengthening promotional efforts in the region as well as in medium-haul markets such as Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, India, West Asia and Australia, which we hope to see immediate returns. For the long term, we are focusing on the Europe and the Americas,” offers Dr Ng.

Tourism Malaysia is exploring all avenues of promotion including digital marketing to help local and international airlines to step up promotions of online ticket sales.

Tourist arrivals in the first four months of 2014 saw a 9.9% increase year on year. However, China arrivals registered a 19.5% dip in April following the MH370 incident.