Welcome to Johor!

by Uwe Fischer

Malaysia is more than just KL, Penang, Melaka and Borneo: Johor, the southernmost state of the Malaysian mainland, has a lot to offer, too. A group of German travel and marketing specialists were invited and accompanied by Tourism Johor to explore the state, receiving a crash course in its culture, history and geography. MALAYSIA INSIGHTS accompanied the group on their trip.

The 6-days familarization trip was packed with sightseeing, talks, photo sessions and meetings with locals, representatives of government agencies, hotels and recreational parks as well as investors and developers. The schedule included a jungle trip, visits to various museums, an island, a football match (the Southern Tigers from Johor against a Philippine team), a Malay wedding and even to the tomb of the sultans of Johor.

The four participants of the group – Christiane Balkhi (Honeymoon Travel), Jens Weller (Weller Sports & Entertainment), Chi Thanh Tran (ACS Frankfurt) and Achim Heise (L’tur Shop Frankfurt) were selected for their expertise in their respective fields. “We hope that our German guests will give new impetus and ideas on how to better position Johor as a travel destination in the German-speaking coutries,” said Mohd Shukri Masbah, Director of the government agency Tourism Johor, adding that “Germany is close to our hearts.”

Familiarization trips for foreign multipliers, mainly from the tourism sector, reflect a new strategy to promote Johor as a tourist destination. “This is the first time that we invited a group of Germans to explore Johor”, explains Mohd Shukri, who has been to Germany many times, thus being familiar with the Germans’ knack for travelling. The declared goal is to make Johor a familiar name in the German-speaking world within the next five years.

For Jens Weller it was already the second visit to Johor. He develops and coordinates exchange programs between German and foreign sports clubs and federations. The first structures and ideas for an optimized marketing program have already been developed and needs now to be consolidated. “We were shown many exciting new places here,” says Mr Weller, “everywhere we went, we received the warmest welcome. The hospitality of the people here is incredible.” As his personal highlights of the expedition he declares the island of Rawa and a visit to a pineapple plantation, where the amazed guests experienced how to make paper from pineapple leaves.

Achim Heise operates several travel agencies in the Frankfurt area as well as a last-minute booth at Frankfurt Airport. For him it was his first visit to Johor. “Malaysia is a quite unknown country, many Germans do not know anything much about it, but the impression we have gained is: it is a friendly country with great people and a lot of potential.” Particularly impressing he found a walk through unspoilt nature to a waterfall, which is hardly known to anyone but the locals.

Christiane Balkhi joined the group as the representative of Honeymoon Travel, a travel agency specializing in honeymoon and weddings abroad, including Bali and Thailand. “Malaysia is still in its very early stages within our market segment, but for experienced tourists it is a great country. I especially enjoyed the island of Rawa and the detours in the jungle. It is still very original, not yet very touristy. I am positively impressed.” She expressed her hopes that in about three to four years Johor can also be branded as a destination for wedding travels.

For Chi Thanh Tran, who operates several shops in Greater Frankfurt and promotes various advertising spaces, Johor “is a good alternative to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, especially for nature lovers.” The country is characterized by a rich flora and fauna, which is why ecotourism plays an increasingly important role in Johor.

To give them a few examples within this new sector, the group was invited to visit several spots for ecotourism, including a marine habitat in the Straits of Johor, an eco-plantation and the Tanjung Piai National Park. The latter is one of six nature parks in Johor and consists mainly of mangrove forests, which can be explored by visitors on wooden paths. The forest serves as a habitat for resident and migratory birds, and also for macaques and other wild life. In addition, mangrove forests in coastal areas serve as natural barriers, which protect the inland villages, plantations and fields from storms. Another special feature of the park is the fact that it is located at the southernmost point of the Asian mainland. A stylized world globe on the edge of the park points to this fact and is a favorite photo motive for visitors.

Another place that Tourism Johor has specifically selected for the German delegation to visit is in the Pontian district. In 2014, a small village gained increased attention when Germany had just won the Football World Cup. The name of the small settlement Parit Jerman (German village) prompted many Malaysian football friends and Germany fans to take photos in front of the town sign.

Little did most of them know that once upon a time indeed there had been a German colony. Around the year 1880 some German emigrants settled here and built a thriving pineapple plantation. Today, this heritage is almost forgotten. “So far we know only the names of two families who ran the farm,” says Mr Faizul from the local administration,”we hope to learn more about the history of the colony through further research.” The highlight of the visit was a canoe trip through a marshy waterway that was once used to transport the harvest to Singapore.

With a tough schedule running from 6am in the morning until late at night on most days of their stay, the group especially enjoyed the chance to slow down by visiting the beautiful little island Rawa for a one night stay. Rawa is the ideal hideaway for travellers and families who want to relax for a couple of days without much distractions. The chalets of Rawa Island Resort are characterised by a comfortable down-to-earth ambiente purposely lacking TV and internet access. Instead, guests can entertain themselves with activities like snorcheling and diving (although the German group did not stay long enough to experience this), tennis or ball games and expeditions to the jungle and hills of the tiny island.

However, Rawa is only one of many dream islands within Johor that are keen to welcome more guests from abroad. Therefore it is very likely that in future there will be more familiarization trips to introduce them as well.

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