Sunday, December 10, 2006

Making VMY 2007 a Golden Triumph : Interview with Tourism Minister

One golden celebration – that's what Visit Malaysia Year 2007 is being touted as. The target is to get at least 20 million tourists to come visit us next year.

In a one-to-one interview with DEEPAK GILL, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor talks about efforts to make Malaysia more attractive to world travellers and the programmes that have been drawn up to make VMY 2007 a golden triumph for all Malaysians.

QUESTION. How are the preparations for VMY going?
ANSWER. Good. The launch will be at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa in KL on Jan 6, with a wheel called the Eye of Malaysia, which will be running till Dec 31 next year.

Apart from that, on the lake itself there will be a water screen every night, which will be showing the faces of Malaysia and also the history of Malaysia from before independence, during independence and what we have achieved. There’ll also be a floral parade, Pasadena-style.

Tengku Adnan: ‘We’re doing all this to tell our people that we’re so diverse, yet because of our unity, Malaysia is what it is today’There’ll be 240 events next year in all states, with 50 big ones, and five major ones – the Eye of Malaysia; the floral parade; the international aerospace exhibition – where an actual Russian space shuttle will be here which you can enter; the international fireworks competition, and the international buskers plus Citrawarna Parade. These are on top of the regular events.

We’re doing all this to tell our people that we’re so diverse, yet because of our unity, Malaysia is what it is today. So until you die you have to live together, we can’t afford to have conflicts among ourselves. What Malaysia is today is because of her people. Tolerance and compromise is what has made the country.

Q: How are we positioning ourselves and what are the country’s latest tourism products?
A: We have lots of natural tourist sites; we have icons like the Twin Towers, the Mulu Caves, Sipadan and Mount Kinabalu. What we want to do next is tell people that Malaysia is an ideal family destination.

We have everything. And it’s value for money. We plan to rebrand Penang, Langkawi and Malacca. We would like to see more tourists go to the East Coast.

We’re also looking at getting more of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions & exhibitions) market. We want Malaysia to become the shopping destination for people of South-East Asia and Europe. If you compare prices of branded items, we’re competitive or even cheaper, as our overheads are low.

Also, due to our modern infrastructure, we would like to encourage DIY (do-it-yourself) holidays. We will encourage people to rent a car and drive in the country, and toying with the idea of providing big bikes as well. By the end of the 9th Malaysian Plan (year 2010), we are targeting arrivals of 24 million (next year’s arrivals are projected at 20 million).

The other thing we’re looking at is the homestay programme. We want to tie it up with youth travels and backpacking. Some people have the wrong perception of backpackers, when actually they are the ones who write and use the Internet and tell their friends all over the world what Malaysia is about; the best way of promotion is word-of-mouth.

We would like to go into ecotourism, agrotourism, education tourism, health tourism and marine tourism. We have 14 marinas now. There’s a lot of potential for these marinas. We hope more yachts will come to Malaysia.

We’re working with the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry to bring concerts, and ensure Istana Budaya has plays and shows throughout the year.

We’re also working on rail tours. We’re creating in KL a hop-on, hop-off bus service. The bus will go to all the sights in KL. They’ll pick up from the hotel, and they’ll be eight languages you can listen to.

We will have I-booths, or information booths, all over the city, all over Malaysia. We have started in KL and are moving into Penang, Langkawi, etc. It will consist of an information centre and a tourist police beat base. All the information for tourists will be there.

Q: What are Malaysia’s best tourism assets?
A: Our natural environment. We have pristine beaches, beautiful islands, flora, fauna, and our jungles. We’re trying to get the “Heart of Borneo” forest, which is 130 million years old and covers Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, as a World Heritage Site.

From my experience driving around the country and in KL, signage is going to be the biggest problem for self-drive tourists, as signage is often misleading or inadequate.

We are trying to solve that. In fact we were just discussing that today, with regard to the signage for the LCCT (low-cost carrier terminal).

Q: What about maintenance of existing facilities and infrastructure?
A: Our (the ministry’s) job is to promote. Unfortunately the tourism facilities are not owned by us. They are either owned privately, by the state, or the local council.

We keep telling the local councils – “Please look after these facilities. Make sure the facilities, the toilets, the approach road, the surroundings are kept in the same condition as when we promote them.”

Q: How influential is the Tourism Ministry with local councils?
A: Well, we talk to them, and they understand, and they’re working very closely with us. Our state directors are told to work closely with them.

We also provide funds if they need facilities to be upgraded. We also advise them that many European tourists shy away from concrete structures; they prefer authentic wooden buildings, for example.

Q: What kind of say do you have in development projects; for example a local authority wants to develop a particular place?
A: That we don’t have. As I said, the facilities are not in our hands. We can only advise, we can only voice out when we meet once in three months with the tourism excos of the states.

Q: Our many recreation parks don’t seem well managed and don’t attract foreign tourists at all. What can be done so these can be better used by tourists?
A: Our recreation parks and hutan lipur are basically for domestic tourism. Foreigners would like to stay longer and have a bigger perspective. For long-stay tourists, it’s impossible to sell them the recreational parks.

Q: What can be done to prevent a place from being overrun, for example Pulau Payar in Langkawi?
A: We’re always looking at carrying capacity. We do not want overcrowding, for example at our parks, islands, forests. We want to know the carrying capacities. So we’re working with the (Natural Resources and) Environment Ministry.

Q: Are there any spots in Malaysia that carrying capacity is enforced?
A: Yes, Sipadan. Now there’s a maximum carrying capacity of 120 (visitors) a day. We’re asking for an increase to 160, because there are 10 dive sites. And in Terengganu, the state has decided that on certain islands, the development would be restricted.

Q: Does the ministry recognise and support innovative solutions like responsible tourism self-assessment practices introduced by NGOs like Wild Asia?
A: Yes, yes. We work with all of them. In fact some people have approached us to study the corals and marine life, to assist us to do assessments.

Q: Is there a special committee on sustainable tourism?
A: We have all sorts of committees in our ministry. Even on disasters and disease outbreaks.

Q: Is there any sort of training on sustainable tourism for local councils and officials?
A: We have lots of training programmes, not only on sustainable tourism, but carrying capacity; we train front-liners on courtesy, attitude, language.

Q: Is there a need to improve or increase night entertainment and activities in the cities?
A: We’re working with local councils. Licensing has to be left to local councils. What we’re upset about is that the hotels have stopped running 24-hour coffee lounges.
Some restaurants also close too early. We’re also trying to encourage shopping centres to open till midnight. In fact, Malacca has a shopping centre that’s open 24 hours.

Q: How can we prevent overzealous religious officials from scaring tourists away, either by their statements or actions?
A: We are also talking to them. They have to understand that Malaysian Muslims have to abide by the rules of the Syariah court. But with foreigners, especially non-Muslims, you cannot impose Muslim laws on non-Muslims.
So this is what we’re talking to them about. These are the problems that arise and it causes painful perceptions of the country. It’s a case of one bad apple spoiling the bunch.

Source : STAR

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