What are the most significant recent trends driving the tourism sector in Kuala Lumpur? What have been the key trends in terms of inbound markets?

COKKINIAS: The recent trends driving the tourism sector in Kuala Lumpur are based on many factors. Although we have gone through some economic changes over the past few years, Southeast Asia remains extremely popular as a tourist destination. Tourism regarding healthcare has been increasing year-by-year. Many people are coming to Malaysia for medical reasons. Also, Malaysia has many beautiful beaches and islands. Honeymooners are visiting and extending their stays to enjoy the country’s coastline. Airlines have also been increasing the amount of flights coming into Kuala Lumpur. This is significant because tourists now have more options regarding travel dates and flight times. More importantly, I believe that the recent trends in the tourism sector as of late, have been driven by cultural experiences. The culture of Malaysia is greatly influenced by the local Malays, Chinese and Indians. I believe that when people visit Malaysia they not only come away with an enjoyable experience, but also some cultural understanding.

How has the sector performed in occupancy rates, average length of stay, and average rate over the last 2 years? Where do you see these numbers trending in the short and medium term?

COKKINIAS: Occupancy and average rates have been increasing over the past 2 years. This is a result of an increase in the amount of tourists visiting Malaysia. The numbers are going up and the first half of 2012 has been very positive. We would like to see the tourism sector continue to grow over the next few years. I believe that Malaysia is known as a value destination. In fact, we may actually be under priced compared to some of the other destinations in the region. I believe that our consistent growth in the average rate will allow us to continue to provide world-class products and services.

How well developed is the 5 star luxury hotel segment in Kuala Lumpur?

COKKINIAS: Kuala Lumpur is an incredible city. We have a population of 3m people that have a very unique and diverse background. The hotel landscape in Malaysia is quite astonishing. A lot of travelers are not aware of the numerous 5 star luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur. We have a vast range of global brands that are incorporated throughout the city. This is significant because it creates a very competitive landscape and gives tourists a gamut of options to choose from. The Ritz-Carlton is conveniently located in the heart of the city and is connected to the Starhill Gallery. The Starhill Gallery is the premier shopping destination for luxury brands in Kuala Lumpur. Certainly, there are a number of terrific hotels to choose from in Kuala Lumpur of which The Ritz-Carlton is one of them. We are proud to have our property here and we look forward to welcoming guests to our hotel.

What segments or niches present the biggest opportunities for growth?

COKKINIAS: Business tourism is a niche that has a lot of potential for growth and development in Malaysia. As the economy of Malaysia continues to grow, business people will be increasingly drawn to Kuala Lumpur for conferences, exhibitions, and meetings. Kuala Lumpur is a great destination for business tourism because it hosts many world-class hotels and conference facilities.

How successfully has Malaysia been at promoting itself as a MICE destination? What are the biggest challenges the country still faces in terms of MICE?

COKKINIAS: I believe that Malaysia could do a better job of promoting itself as a Meetings Incentives Conferencing Exhibitions (MICE) destination. Malaysia is mainly marketed as a vacation destination. Advertisements are solely focused on beaches, fireworks, and couples shopping. Malaysia should shift this focus to that of a business mindset. The hotels in Malaysia have world-class services and modern conference facilities. As Malaysia continues to grow, there will be an increased priority placed on the MICE sector. This is significant because it is key to the overall growth of the hospitality industry.

From a competitive standpoint, what advantages does Malaysia have over other countries throughout the region?

COKKINIAS: Malaysia’s location is a key element that contributes to its competitiveness throughout the region. The country successfully incorporates the spirit and excitement of Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s infrastructure is very strong which helps facilitate the growth and development of its economy. Also, the country is very safe and stable. At the same time, Malaysia has a very unique and vibrant culture. We have many beautiful destinations throughout the country to travel to. Malaysia’s diversity gives it a competitive advantage over some of the other popular destinations in Southeast Asia.

Malaysia’s Tourism Transformation Plan 2020 aims to achieve 36m tourist arrivals by 2020. From an infrastructure point of view, how well equipped is the country to handle this number of arrivals?

COKKINIAS: I believe that Malaysia’s goal of achieving 36m tourist arrivals by 2020 is very obtainable. The government is presently working on the development of another airport in Kuala Lumpur that will be an annex of the current international airport. Kuala Lumpur International Airport is one of the top 10 airports in the world. I believe we can reach this target because Malaysia has the technology, infrastructure, and stability to host such a large number of travellers. We are very well equipped to handle an increasing amount of incoming tourists. I believe that that the country is making great progress in its pursuit of reaching this goal. I think that the country is in great shape to hit that 36m, maybe 40m, by 2020.