After big bump in Singapore visitors since April, Johor’s tourist spots cautiously optimistic about recovery

·8-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JOHOR BARU, June 4 — Johor’s main tourist attractions are on the road to recovery after reporting a steady increase in Singapore visitors since the country reopened its borders to all international visitors on April 1.

The influx via the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Second Link Crossing is poised to revitalise Johor’s domestic economy after two years of border closures and travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The past two years had also resulted in the severe decline of the state’s tourism businesses and loss of jobs in the southern state.

Johor, being the southernmost state of peninsular Malaysia, is closest to Singapore. As immediate neighbours, the state’s tourist economy has depended on Singaporeans for many years.

At present, Johor offers many world-class tourist attractions. Malay Mail recently reached out to several key attractions for their take on the situation.

Among them are the popular Legoland Malaysia Resort, Sunway Group’s Sunway City in Iskandar Puteri and Desaru Coast.

Legoland Malaysia Resort

The Legoland integrated one-stop resort, housing its theme park, water park, Sea Life attraction and hotel, is in Iskandar Puteri’s Medini district.

Legoland Malaysia Resort’s divisional director CS Lim said since the border reopened, the resort has seen very encouraging response from Singaporeans.

He said Legoland Malaysia expects this to continue as more restrictions are relaxed around the world.

“During this period, we have tracked gradual increase in enquiries and bookings from international travellers, especially Singaporeans, who are one of our key markets in this region.

“As an iconic and renowned attraction, the border reopening also presents us the opportunity to contribute to the recovery of Malaysia’s tourism sector, while attracting more visitors to choose Johor as their preferred holiday destination,” said Lim when contacted by Malay Mail recently.

On Legoland Malaysia’s current uptake by Singaporeans, Lim said the response has been positive since the easing of travel restrictions.

Having said that, he added that the resort is still at a very early stage of recovery, and it will take some time for everything, including the adjacent segments, to bounce back.

Lim pointed out that with the revival of the tourism sector, Legoland Malaysia is expecting considerable growth in visitors this year.

“We are prepared and excited to welcome and reconnect with our guests from around the world with the resort enhancements, new attractions, and activities that we have planned for the year.

“Nevertheless, we have learned to keep our plans flexible and ready to switch gears at a moment’s notice,” he said.

Lim also shared Legoland Malaysia’s latest plans within its theme park, water park, hotel and Sea Life attraction in line with the border reopening.

“Being one-of-a-kind in this region, we strive to ensure that there is something new to discover in every visit from our annual seasonal programmes to activities and festivities that not only are fun but educational as well.

“All our activities are meticulously curated based on our foundational strength of our Lego DNA in nurturing and building creativity through play,” he said.

Legoland Malaysia’s theme park is currently featuring the all-new Build the Thrills Festival. The latest feature is not only one of the largest partnerships between Lego and Legoland, but also the theme park’s first-ever vehicle and racing themed festival.

Other than that, Legoland Malaysia has additional activities on the cards, such as the resort’s 10th anniversary celebration, the annual Halloween (Brick-or-Treat) and year-end festivals (BrickTacular) and the new shaded Miniland.

Sunway City Iskandar Puteri

Similarly, for Sunway Group, its three main tourist attractions in Johor have reported a positive increase in visitors, especially Singaporeans.

At present, Sunway Group in Johor owns and manages the Sunway Big Box development that consists of the brand-new Sunway Hotel Big Box and Malaysia’s first hybrid retail park, Sunway Big Box Retail Park. At the same time, the extreme and adventure park called X Park Sunway Iskandar is also under the company.

Sunway Hotel Big Box general manager David Xavier said the four-star hotel has reported a visitor influx since borders reopened.

He said this was also based on the hotel’s recent Juadah Big Box, which was its Ramadan buffet promotion that ran from April 5 to 28 and received a good response from both Singaporeans and Malaysians alike.

“Sunway Hotel Big Box is also currently seeing an increase in bookings on the weekend in conjunction with Singapore’s school holidays,” he said to Malay Mail.

Xavier believes Sunway Hotel Big Box is strategically located and benefits from a variety of activities around the Iskandar Puteri area, including two extreme parks — the X Park and EnerG-X — a driving range and as well as shopping options next door at the Sunway Big Box Retail Park. Legoland is located about five minutes away.

As a new hotel in Johor and keen to welcome Singaporeans in conjunction with the reopening of the borders, Xavier said they have just launched their “Welcome Back, Neighbours” promotion which offers a three-day two-night (3D2N) stay at Sunway Hotel Big Box.

He said the promotion includes free single-seater Go Kart passes for two at X Park, free entry to EnerG X for two, Sunway Big Box Retail Park as well as RM100 worth of attractive shopping and Sunway e-Mall vouchers worth RM1,199 at only RM599.

For the Sunway Big Box Retail Park, its assistant general manager Allan Tay said the premises has seen a moderate increase in footfall.

In fact, he said there has been an increase in Singapore-registered cars, a clear indication of the growth in visitors from across the Causeway.

To encourage this influx, Tay said Sunway Big Box Retail Park has introduced several campaigns and activities including kids-related events for both locals and Singaporeans.

For those craving activities, X Park Sunway Iskandar park manager Fahruding Muhamad said the extreme and adventure facility has also seen a steady increase of visitors both from Singapore as well as locally.

“In fact, 40 per cent of visitors since April are from Singapore,” he said on X Park Sunway Iskandar that has been a popular recreational venue for Singaporeans.

“As part of our efforts to draw in more customers, we introduced promotions during the Raya season including discounts for Go Kart, futsal sessions as well as glamping stays for walk-in customers.”

Desaru Coast

Malaysia’s newest and largest luxury beach resort, Desaru Coast Destination Resort, has been making headlines recently.

Consisting of four hotels — One&Only, Anantara, The Westin and Hard Rock — as well as the Adventure Waterpark and The Els Club, it lays claim to being the biggest integrated resort in the country.

Desaru Coast is easily accessible from Johor Baru and takes about one-and-a-half hours by car from the city centre.

It was recently recognised as one of the ‘World’s Greatest Places 2021’ by Time magazine, the only destination in Malaysia to make the list last year.

Desaru Coast Destinations Resorts managing director and chief executive officer Roslina Arbak said visitors to Desaru Coast have been progressively encouraging for the integrated resort.

However, she pointed out that the arrivals from Singapore are not necessarily Singaporeans as such, pointing to international visitors from other countries as well.

“The increase has been healthy since April 1,” she said to Malay Mail.

Recently, in conjunction with the reopening of the country’s international borders, the newly-launched Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal is also expected to unlock new business, as well as key investment opportunities for the premium destination.

The terminal, the final catalytic component of the phase one development of Desaru Coast, will enhance international connectivity for destinations with direct access from Singapore and Indonesia’s Riau Islands of Batam and Bintan.

The new international gateway with ease of travel and speed in border crossing will greatly increase the volume of travellers into Johor.

What the associations and agencies say

The Johor government is positive that the recent reopening of the borders has had a significant impact on the state tourism sector, especially for neighbouring Singapore.

Tourism Johor director Suhairi Hashim said the state tourism sector is showing a recovery trend as much of the hotel industry has recorded up to 70 per cent of room bookings on weekends since April 1.

He said the increase in the tourism sector was also boosted by sports and health tourism to the state.

However, the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) cautioned that since the border reopening, the spike in figures was not a true indicator that Johor is on track to pre-pandemic days just yet.

CS Lim, who is also the association’s vice-president, said it would take another two to three months to properly gauge the impact of Singaporeans in Johor.

“We need to remember, the positive feedback we get on Singaporeans coming into Johor to spend since April 1 was due to the Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays.

“Basically, for us, April and May are not viewed as traditional holiday periods.

“This month and July would be the proper months to gauge the sentiment among Singaporean travellers to Johor, as a holiday destination, due to the long school holidays,” he said to Malay Mail.

Lim also believes that given time, more Singaporeans will be better informed about Johor’s many tourist attractions.

“By year-end, we will be able to gauge if Johor’s tourism sector has truly recovered and returned to pre-pandemic days,” he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) president Uzaidi Udanis said the country needed new premium tourism products to attract more tourists as the sector was still in the recovery phase after two years of Covid-19-related lockdowns.

He said the challenge was in creating tourism products to suit the tastes of tourists who want to enjoy a unique experience that is different from others.

“We need the latest products, the tourism market is becoming dynamic,” he said.

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