Other measures include establishing a chain of Malaysian restaurants abroad, promoting eco-tourism and loosening restrictions for foreigners to retire in the country, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said after leading the first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Tourism.

"We aim to increase the number of long-haul and high-end tourists who have higher buying power. To do this, we have to be more imaginative and find a more unique way to sell Malaysia," he said.

 

Second-largest income

Tourism is Malaysia's second-largest foreign exchange earner, raking in 27.3 billion ringgit ($7.25 billion) last year from 15.7 million visitors.

Najib said tourist arrivals were expected to rise to 16.4 million this year, with total receipts estimated at 35 billion ringgit.

"By 2010, our target is to have 24.6 million international tourist arrivals ... bringing in revenue of nearly 60 billion ringgit," he said.

Lebanese singer

As part of the new campaign, he said the Tourism Ministry recently persuaded a famous Lebanese singer to use Malaysia as a backdrop for his album.

"We are also trying to attract famous showbiz stars to be our guests in Malaysia as part of our promotional efforts," he said. "We will also encourage entrepreneurs to set up Malaysian restaurants abroad, especially in Europe and the US."
 

Najib dismissed concerns that tourism may be hurt by smoke from Indonesian forest fires, which has blanketed large parts of Malaysia for a week and recurs nearly every year.

 

"Tourist arrivals have not been affected by the haze," he said.
The committee on tourism, which integrates seven ministries as well as representatives from immigration, national flag-carrier Malaysia Airlines and the trade board, will announce other promotional measures soon, he added.