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MALAYSIA’S tourism potential can never be fully exploited because its tourism offerings are limitless, says the tourism minister.
“Once we believe we have reached the goal, the marker will be set higher. It can only go up from here,” Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen told the New Straits Times in an interview.
Malaysia offers a myriad of tourism destinations and products, from heritage, medical and ecological tourism to home-stay, shopping, dining and beaches and islands.
Dr Ng says Malaysia is aware of the intense global competition in the tourism industry.
Tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner after manufacturing for Malaysia.
“The industry received little attention several years back but now countries are pushing harder to promote themselves. For example, China recently made tourism promotion a national policy.”
Malaysia is not resting on its laurels and is keen to ride on the lucrative industry.
Dr Ng is confident that Malaysia will meet this year’s targets of 24 million in tourist arrivals and RM54 billion in tourist receipts.
Last year, 23.65 million tourists spent RM53.4 billion in Malaysia. The majority were from Asean member countries.
“Around 70 per cent of the tourists came from Asean. However, we are trying to balance the markets and shift some weight to other regions of the world.”
She says the country’s goal is to attract 36 million tourists per year by 2020, where RM168 billion will be added to the gross domestic product. “That will be three times more than what we are receiving at present.”
Achieving that goal will also mean that hawkers, taxi drivers, tour guides and hotel operators will receive RM3 billion in total every week.
The ministry’s studies found that a tourist from Asia spent an average of RM2,000 per visit.
In comparison, those from Australia, Europe and the Middle East spent between RM4,000 and RM6,500 per visit.
“We are trying to attract these tourists because they stay for longer periods and have a higher spending capacity,” Dr Ng says.
The ministry’s plans were derailed by the global economic crisis and the influenza A (H1N1) in 2008.
Still, the country’s tourism arrivals and tourist receipts increased by 7.2 per cent and 2.8 per cent respectively to 23.6 million tourists and RM53 billion last year.
Malaysia’s tourism industry was ranked by the World Tourism Organisation as the ninth-best in the world last year.
Malaysia also ranked second in the market after China in terms of tourist arrivals in Asia.
The success was partly due to the vigorous strategies employed by the ministry and the people.
“Instead of just relying on messages and overseas directors, I went to those countries and promoted our tourism industry.
“Our intensive, direct promotion of Malaysia ensured an influx of tourists here. At the same time, it opened up many opportunities for the industry.”
Malaysia saw an increase of tourists from the countries she visited.
“Prior to my visit to Finland last year, there were no direct flights. Since my visit, there had been 12 chartered flights, each carrying 280 Finnish tourists.
“Each tourist spent an average of RM4,000. That was RM13 million from Finland alone.”
But her visits also aided Malaysia in ways facts and figures could not quantify, that is dispelling certain notions spread by international media.
“Some foreigners had wrong ideas about Malaysia. I had to explain to them that alcohol consumption is permitted and couples can hold hands in public.
“One tourist even asked me if he needed to bring his marriage certificate,” says Dr Ng.
Nevertheless, she says it is important not to over-develop the country just to attract tourists.
“We can build upon what we already have and minimise damage to the environment. Our natural diversity is a strong selling point.
“We need to show the world that our tourism industry protects and conserves nature.”
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is the most important aspect when it comes to boosting the country’s tourism?
A: When tourists come to our country, they want to look for things to do. So, by preparing products and events that run throughout the year, tourists will have a list of activities to participate in.
Q: What does the ministry need to do to bring Malaysia’s tourism to new heights?
A: The ministry can provide support through promotions and infrastructure. Funds must largely come from the private sector.
Q: What is your call to the private sector?
A: Be adventurous, be brave, think big and be an agent in stimulating growth. Everyone must act to enable tourism to contribute further to the country’s economy.
Q: Why do you think the private sector is on the conservative side when it comes to promoting tourism?
A: I believe they undervalue tourists. Nowadays, time is more precious than money. Tourists want to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest time. They will spend big and spend fast to get what needs to be done while on holiday here.
Q: What is your wish list?
A: I wish that Malaysians in the service sector would be more polite and informative. From feedback, tourists said Malaysians in general are kind but when it comes to taxi drivers or hotel receptionists, I believe their professional attitude can be improved. My second wish is for Malaysia to be cleaner. Cleanliness is not something money can buy, and it is very achievable. It is each individual’s responsibility to keep the country clean.
Q: What is your message to Malaysians when it comes to promoting tourism?
A: Think tourism, act tourism. We can raise our image and impress not just tourists but the world if we make an effort to be friendly, courteous and hygienic.
~~ New Straits Times
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