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Malaysia may open skies to more budget carriers to woo 20 million tourists in 2007

Malaysia may open skies to more budget carriers to woo 20 million tourists in 2007

Malaysia may allow more Asian low-cost airlines, including Singapore's Tiger Airways and Bangkok Air, to fly to the country to ensure the success next year of its biggest-ever tourism campaign, a minister said Thursday.
Tourism Minister Adnan Mansor said cheap air travel would be crucial to giving a boost to the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 campaign. Ongoing floods in the country's south have disrupted road and rail services, potentially hurting efforts to draw 20 million tourists next year.
The government is in talks with Tiger Airways to fly from Singapore to key tourist destinations on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island, he said.
But Tiger Airways is unlikely to be allowed to fly the lucrative Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route, which is monopolized by flag carriers Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, he said. The governments of the two countries have yet to decide whether to open the route to competition.
"We are persuading our Transport Ministry to try to get Tiger Airways to come to some other destinations in Malaysia that can also be lucrative. They are still under negotiation," Adnan told reporters.
"We are also talking to Bangkok Air as well because they want to come to Malaysia. We would like more LCCs (low-cost carriers) to come to our country."
He said Cebu Pacific recently launched flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, with a second Philippines-based LCC likely to start flying soon from Davao to Malaysia's Sandakan town in Sabah. Thai AirAsia, the Thai affiliate of Malaysian low-cost airline Air Asia, on Jan. 6 will launch flights from Bangkok to Malaysia's Langkawi resort island, he said.
Adnan said the ministry was concerned that floods would scare off tourists from Singapore, who make up about 60 percent of foreign visitors to the country each year.
The floods, the most severe in a century in southern Malaysia, have claimed eight victims and displaced tens of thousands of people and hurt road and rail links between the two countries. Malaysian authorities are bracing for possible further floods this week amid warnings of more rainfall.
"We are worried. Coaches from Singapore that comes up to Kuala Lumpur and up north ferry 3 million passengers a year," he said.
"We can only pray and hope the floods will subside as soon as possible. Singapore is still our southern gateway for tourists to Malaysia. We are looking at other avenues, such as pushing more tourists from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines."
The government is also looking at increasing chartered flights from Europe to lure long-haul travelers, he added.
Tourism is the Southeast Asian nation's second largest source of foreign exchange after exports.
Adnan said the government has allocated 149 million ringgit (US$42 million, euro35 million) for the 2007 tourism campaign, held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's independence from Britain.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will on Jan. 6 launch the campaign, which is projected to pull in revenues of 44.5 billion ringgit (US$12.6 billion; euro10.5 billion), almost 20 percent higher than the amount expected from tourism receipts this year, Adnan said.
Earlier, Adnan launched the city's first luxury double-decker bus service providing a tour of Kuala Lumpur with prerecorded commentaries in eight languages to guide travelers through major attractions.