To white-collar professionals and entrepreneurs in Shenzhen in South China’s Guangdong province, Malaysian holiday destination Langkawi may not be as widely known as Thailand’s Koh Samui or Indonesia’s Bali.
But Azizan Noordin, CEO of the Langkawi Development Authority, is confident this will change soon and that the archipelago, which comprises more than 100 islands about 30 kilometers off Malaysia’s northwest coast, will become a top pick for Chinese holidaymakers, especially those from the boomtown of Shenzhen.
As the person in charge, Azizan is working hard to achieve this goal.
Azizan spent the entire morning of Aug 9 at Langkawi’s airport to greet AirAsia’s first direct flight from Shenzhen. And he skipped lunch for this interview in the Italian restaurant of The Danna Langkawi, a luxury hotel on the other side of Langkawi’s main island.
Sipping fresh orange juice, Azizan said Chinese are already the largest foreign population of tourists in Langkawi. But when asked if he is satisfied with that, he replied: “No, not at all.”
More than 43,000 Chinese tourists visited Langkawi in the first quarter of 2016, latest figures from Tourism Malaysia show. The country received 2.1 million tourists from China last year, an increase of 26.7 percent from 2015.
In comparison, roughly 8.7 million Chinese holidaymakers visited neighboring Thailand — more than 3.5 million of them going to Pattaya, Koh Samui and Krabi.
“We need more flights,” Azizan said. “We are working closely with AirAsia and China Southern Airlines to market Langkawi and bring in more Chinese tourists.”
Azizan said he believes Langkawi, with its beautiful natural scenery and relaxed lifestyle, will be an ideal destination for young professionals from Shenzhen and the whole of China to take short breaks from hectic work and crowded urban life.
Known as the Jewel of Kedah, Langkawi is all about nature. But the risk for those who love trees, beaches and sunsets is that they may never want to leave this paradise.
Langkawi was awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status in 2007 and is home to lush forests, white sand beaches, waterfalls, caves, limestone cliffs and mangroves. Apart from their natural beauty, the islands are rich in folklore. Many of their natural formations are steeped in legend, each story adding to the mystique and allure of the place.
Popular activities in Langkawi include sailing, mangrove kayaking, bird watching and jungle trekking, although more laid-back travelers can simply enjoy relaxing on a beach with a good book and a cocktail. Rental cars or motorbikes are popular, making it easy to explore the main island which has more than 65 percent of its forest cover still intact.
With a population of just 100,000, Langkawi is a destination with diversity, a place where different cultures and ethnicities coexist with mutual respect for one another.
There is plenty to catch the eye and color the visitor’s first impressions during the 30-minute drive from the airport to Kuah, the main island’s biggest town — for example, mosques with golden domes, local food stores painted green to sell fresh fruit, and Chinese restaurants offering Sichuan cuisine.
On the Fisherman’s Wharf, which is next to the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, there is a popular ice cream store named Sugar Daddy’s, run by a Finnish man and his wife from Thailand.
Confirming that Langkawi is also a luxury escape destination, a number of top-tier international hotel brands have opened resorts there in recent years.
“For me (Langkawi) is a place of everything,” said Melissa Mohan, director of marketing at The St Regis Langkawi, a new luxury hotel opened only 16 months ago. The property is fringed by a 600-meter beach with seamless views of the Andaman Sea.
With interiors by G.A Design and architecture by renowned firm Gensler, the hotel channels a classical contemporary aesthetic. The resort’s mansion house infuses European and Middle Eastern influences with a subtle palette of soft blues and beiges, making the most of the stunning surrounding landscape.
The hotel offers four private over-water villas and 85 luxuriously appointed rooms. And although rainy mid-August is not Malaysia’s peak travel season, most of the rooms were occupied at the time of this visit.
The St Regis Langkawi wants to attract more tourists from China. It already has a WeChat account to engage with more Chinese holidaymakers, according to Mohan, who said the new flight from Shenzhen will definitely be a boost.
At its launch, Aireen Omar, AirAsia’s Malaysia CEO, said: “We have flown over 1 million guests into Langkawi this year, and we anticipate the number of inbound guests will continue to grow even further with this new route.”
She said AirAsia is also working closely with the Langkawi Development Authority to establish Langkawi as an international hub and promote the beautiful island archipelago as a top holiday destination for visitors from China.