The Luis Suarez Tourism Malaysia deal leaves more questions than answers

The big news yesterday was the low key announcement (contradiction deliberate) of Tourism Malaysia’s tie up with Luis Suarez, the Uruguay centre forward, once of Ajax and Liverpool who reluctantly sold him to FC Barcelona three years ago for about €81 million.

After scoring 88 goals in 3 La Liga seasons, he signed a new contract with FC Barcelona earlier this year but is struggling with a knee injury and has only managed 3 goals in 8 appearances. So hardly setting the footballing world on fire. Unsurprisingly there is now talk of him leaving the club but with an aging body and an existing knee injury, he may become the first high profile player to retire at Barcelona.

So it was a surprise to hear Tourism Malaysia announce a partnership with the player. Tourism Malaysia said in a press release, “The partnership is expected to drive interest for Malaysia as a tourist destination, leveraging on the football player’s popularity around the world which foresaw an increase in millennials visiting the country.”

Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz said, “Suarez had proven to be not only among the world’s top-ranking footballers but also a respected community leader.”

Is Luis Suarez a good fit for Tourism Malaysia?

He carried on, “As a hero to millennials, Suarez is an inspiration to many and we hope that this title and acknowledgement will shine the limelight on Malaysia as a tropical holiday destination that appeals to the millennial spirit for travel and adventure,” he added.

I didn’t know Suarez was a respected community leader and a hero to millenials.

What I do know is that he has a reputation for cheating, racially abusing, biting and punching players both on and off the field. After he was accused and punished for racially abusing Patrick Evra in a Premier League game, the FA released a report that said, “Suárez damaged the image of English football around the world”.

However, Mediapro, the company that represents LaLiga claim Suarez is extremely popular in Asia and Asia MD Lars Heidenreich said, “We are very confident this branding and activation exercise with Suarez will help attract more travellers to consider Malaysia as their next holiday destination and experience all that Malaysia has to offer as being ‘Truly Asia’,” he added.

Suarez considers it “to be an honour and privilege to be able to work with Malaysia and was looking forward to embarking on this journey to introduce the exotic country to the world. Especially its rich culture and heritage to all my fans and make them fans of Malaysia.”

Lots of mixed messages there.

Is such a controversial figure, in the twilight of his career, really a good fit for Malaysia? What is the strategy? How will this deal ‘shine a spotlight on Malaysia’? How will Suarez be used? What is his role? Bearing in mind Qatar sponsors FC Barcelona, how will Malaysia gain exposure?

Does more people considering Malaysia as a destination need such a character? Won’t Malaysia be on the radar of anyone considering SE Asia? In the social media era, will an aging footballer getting limited game time move travellers from consideration to confirmation? Or is that likely to be influenced by the experiences of people like them that they find on social media?

Who exactly is Tourism Malaysia targetting with this exercise? Is it Asian markets? If so, which ones? Is it Millennials? If so, are Millennials from Vietnam the same as Millennials from Japan? which ones?

It’s an interesting deal but it creates more questions than answers. Assuming Suarez gets over the knee injuring, starts playing and more importantly, scoring goals we’ll no doubt see more of him in Malaysia.

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