Like most events this year, Malaysia's largest travel fair took place this year virtually with the aim of enabling members of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) to seize new opportunities through digital selling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tan Kok Liang, president of MATTA, says, “This [fair] signals MATTA’s effort to kick-start the recovery from the impact of the pandemic on the travel and tourism industry and to incite interest among the travellers now.”
MATTA's first-ever digital fair, which took place from 23 to 30 September, saw the participation of 95 travel and tour agents from most states, with Malaysia Airlines as the official airline and the Sarawak Tourism Board as the destination partner. Over 1,000 packages, mainly domestic, were offered, with the tagline ‘Buy Now Travel Later’.
Hwajing Travel and Tours managing director Kenny Cheong admits that he was initially sceptical about participating in MATTA's first online fair as this year's event received considerably less publicity than previous editions, but the response he received over the three-day virtual event changed his perceptions.
“We had very good response during the first 36 hours and had sold off at least 100 packages. We had since revised our expectations upward. Our cruise packages proved to be the most popular as the prices were very attractive and we had good guarantees in view of the uncertainties amid the pandemic,” he explains.
Screencap of the interactive MATTA Fair Online.
Interestingly, Cheong also shares that many of the bookings were not done on the platform itself as travellers still preferred to place enquiries through the phone -- all exhibitors had the WhatsApp chat option, with some also offering email/phone and live chats. The desire to speak to a travel advisor, he notes, is especially apparent for cruise bookings as clients wanted the personal touch.
But joining the fair was a good experience that highlighted digital possibilities, he adds, prompting him to modify his company’s website to cater to e-bookings.
Also seeing good potential in online selling is Holiday Tours and Travel, which used to specialises in outbound travel but also offered domestic packages at the MATTA online fair.
"Direct responses from the MATTA website have been slow but we have supplemented this with our own efforts and have been generating regular bookings,” shares the spokesperson. “Online shopping is here to stay and might even become mainstream, so it needs to be embraced and we have recently relaunched our website to cater to both offline and online purchases."
Applauding MATTA for its first attempt in organising a virtual fair, the Holiday spokesperson urges that more pre-publicity and publicity during the event should be done for future editions, and that further incentives are needed to attract consumers as there were many other ongoing promotions besides the travel fair.
Making the website more user-friendly and easy to navigate is also on the mind of Sedunia Travel Services executive director Teoh Leng Lan. She says that there was a lack of awareness about the fair and suggests that a survey of travellers should be conducted to get a better evaluation.
Teoh Leng Lan, who welcomes the notion of virtual fairs, also stresses that they do not offer the physical interaction that customers need.
“A virtual or online fair being the norm for the future is something we see happening and it is easier and less costly to set up, though travel being a people industry, customers do miss out on the physical interaction. We are in favour of an online fair again and even hold one of our own,” she states.
A first-timer at an online travel fair, GOTZ Travel and Tours managing director Sheikh Awadh Sheik Abdullah says his overall positive experience at MATTA's virtual fair also highlights the importance of making their website more interactive and attractive for travel consumers. He shared that responses from the public was okay and the more popular packages were for island getaways like Pangkor and Redang.