A surge of interest is hitting the sandy shores of Pulau Pangkor in a sudden awakening for the sleepy coastal town, following last year’s confirmation from the federal government that it will proceed with the plan to grant the island duty free status effective January 1,2020.
The fate of the initiative, first announced by the previous administration in late 2017, had initially been up in the air when it lost its foothold in last year’s elections.
At present, the duty-free islands in the country include Labuan, Langkawi and Tioman, as well as artificial island Forest City in Johor, which was declared duty free in March 2016.
Despite the hiccup, the move to accord Pangkor the same status as the other duty-free islands has attracted burgeoning curiosity from members of the Malaysian public, keen to find out more and visit the island.
This is reflected in the statistics on the portal of Majlis Perbandaran Manjung - the district in which the island falls under - showing more than 40% increase in visitor numbers, rising from 1.03mil in 2017 to 1.42mil in 2018, based on the amount of ferry passengers arriving at its jetties.
While Pangkor’s list of duty-free items has yet to be finalised, it is expected to be announced before year-end. Discussions on duty exemption for alcohol and tobacco - and possibly green vehicles as well to promote emission and noise free resort environment - are ongoing, but motorised vehicles are likely to be off the list. The island will also be exempted from the Sales and Services Tax, making it more attractive to visitors.
In addition, with Visit Malaysia 2020 on the horizon, both the federal and state governments are stepping up promotional activities to achieve the 30mil tourist arrival target announced by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.
As such, the small 8km sq island off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia could benefit from an exponential boom in visitor numbers when the new year rolls around. Essential improvements have to be made, however, in order to encourage holidaygoers to extend their stay and increase their spend.
Geared for growth
Ahead of the commencement of Pangkor as a duty-free zone, other recent factors are also converging to give the island a leg up against its competition.
There are wide-ranging existing efforts in different stages of completion, which are meant to improve life on the island for both visitors and residents alike.
Among the most notable is July’s preliminary announcement of the RM486mil allocation for infrastructure upgrades and tourism facilities enhancement, of which RM2mil has been invested into a feasibility study.
Just days before Merdeka, the Perak state government launched a new logo for Pangkor to promote it as a duty-free holiday destination starting next year. The logo highlights its specialty blue-eyed anchovies marine product and its resident hornbills as well.
Promotional signs have also been put up at the Lumut and Pangkor ferry terminals touting the island’s imminent duty-free status.
“There are several programmes to improve facilities in the island such as transportation, awareness campaigns and the monthly Mesra Malaysia programme with printed and digital leaflets to promote Pangkor.
“The programme will be held throughout the year as preparations are made to launch Pangkor as a duty-free island, ” said State Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee chairman Tan Kar Hing during the launch.
Closer coordination between the promotional activities of the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac) and Tourism Perak is required to achieve the desired impact of positioning Pangkor as a world-class island destination.
To celebrate the start of Pangkor’s duty-free status, the two parties are working together to organise a big event by year-end or in 2020.
These are a step in the right direction, but there is a longer term need to uplift and provide more updated information to tourists, via a purpose-built information centre with promotional materials for walking trail routes or island maps showcasing Pangkor’s attractions.
There is also much excitement surrounding the resumption of regular daily flights by SKS Airways Sdn Bhd, using with 19-seater Twin Otter aircraft model to ply the route from Subang Airport to Pangkor, which is set to begin next month.
Moreover, plans to upgrade the airport to accommodate bigger aircrafts and enable more tourist arrivals were mooted by the Perak state government in May. While the airport and its runway has upgraded to ensure it is ready to resume scheduled flight operations, the proposed lengthening of the runway is still in discussion.
This came on the back of the federal government’s April announcement to turn Pangkor Town jetty into a public tourist jetty and Sungai Pinang Besar into a cargo jetty. Both have reached maximum capacity and are long due for an upgrade, as they are insufficiently equipped to handle large volumes of tourists.
Once the 233km-long West Coast Expressway (WCE) construction project reaches full completion by 2020, the island with not be able to sustain the tourist inflow due to its dated infrastructure. WCE, which started in 2013, most recently opened the 19.1km Hutan Melintang-Teluk Intan stretch in May. It is projected to cut travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Lumut from nearly three hours to about 90 minutes, easing access to the area.
According to news reports, Perak State Secretary Zainal Azman Abu Seman recently revealed that an initial budget of RM10mil has been allocated for infrastructure development to beautify and improve infrastructures on the island - notably including the two jetties and the Lumut jetty - after the funds were obtained from the Ministries of Housing and Local Government Ministry (KPKT), Economic Affairs, as well as Rural Development.
A government source speaking to StarBiz under the condition of anonymity confirmed that landscaping and other general beautification efforts are in progress, but noted that major infrastructural changes or developments are unlikely to materialise in the months leading to 2020.
For instance, although the source verbally confirmed the planned demolition and reconstruction of Pangkor Jetty to incorporate a Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) is in the masterplan, the island will have to make do with its current infrastructure for the time being.
A CIQ, alongside other considerations, is necessary to ensure enforcement and combat possible trafficking and smuggling activities owing to its close proximity to the mainland.
A starting point
Positive factors in Pangkor’s favour are aplenty, signalling a pressing need for a development masterplan that would enable rapid growth for the resort island. However, this masterplan is still being studied by a committee chaired by Zainal Azman, which only started work in April.
Although drastic development is not in the cards for the remainder of the year, the source revealed that Perak’s government has started reaching out to the stakeholders in all directions to kick off high impact public and private sector collaboration.
One such area is in urging industry players such as activity operators to innovate new activities and for hoteliers to make improvements in their hotels, as well as advocating for cruise ships to consider Pangkor as a stop during their itineraries, the source said.
Already underway are minor beautification works such as installing additional lights and landscaping to beautify the island, but next year could see the state government pushing for improvements in public transportation such as taxis and ferries.
Zainal Azman also noted that there will be more visits to the Finance Ministry to pitch for more budget to implement other projects in Pangkor, citing his meetings with the island’s taxi drivers to brainstorm improvements to its transport infrastructure.
He added, “I have also met with taxi drivers in Pangkor Island and we are thinking of ways in which the Entrepreneur Development Ministry and the Transport Ministry can assist the transport system on Pangkor.”
The Northern Corridor Implementation Authority had previously implemented the Professional Taxi Driver Programme, aimed at upskilling and coaching taxi drivers to improve the quality of their services as ‘tourism ambassadors’ for community-based tourism in Merbok and Pangkor. 19 trainees have successfully completed the training and were awarded the Skill Development Department’s National Competency Standard for Taxi Tourism Entrepreneurship certification.
The Koperasi Pemandu Teksi Pangkor Bhd was also established to increase its members’ income by selling tourism packages with cooperation from Motac, which could ease discussions when it comes to standardising standards for operations, safety and vehicle quality - moving away from the legacy bright pink boneshakers to greener vehicles in the future.
NCIA had also been spearheading efforts to develop tourism-related business based on green technology, as it collaborated with local electric motor manufacturer Roda Prestasi Sdn Bhd (RPSB) to allocate 50 units of BOS 2000 model electric two wheelers to tourism business entrepreneurs.
The initiative was done through the Dana Pembangunan Usahawan Bumiputera during last March’s launch of the Pangkor: Melestari Pengangkutan Hijau’ programme, which also features the people-centric MySuria renewable energy initiative to foster inclusive participation in the endeavour among B40 community members. Thus far, 12 applicants have been given certificates of approval.
The programme was meant to ensure the island’s continued relevance as a popular tourist destination focusing on sustainable development and conservation of the environment for future generations.
The ‘Pangkor: Melestari Pengangkutan Hijau’ programme also featured the people-centric project, MySuria, an initiative aimed at making the renewable energy agenda inclusive by ensuring members of the B40 community are able to participate in this endeavour.
Several existing infrastructure projects are also progressing well on the island, namely the repair of the 20 tonne capacity incineration plant in Teluk Cempedak and the construction of sewage-related works.
Repair for the island’s mini incinerator by appointed contractors started last year, according to past media reports quoting Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin. Several local residents, who spoke with StarBiz during a recent fact-finding visit, confirmed seeing a flurry of activity at plant in the past few months.
The incinerator, which has been riddled with issues affecting consistent operations since 2012, was built and operated by XCN Technology Sdn Bhd.
Moving forward, however, the island might see the construction of a new waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerator plant to replace the current solution. The move to ‘monetise’ waste could bring in more investment to Pangkor and provide a new channel for recurring revenue and power generation.
Although Cypark Resources Bhd’s RM300mil plant - the first such public-private partnership she has taken under her wing - has suffered from a series of construction delays, Zuraida believes that it will be the starting point to spur other states to develop their own WTE incinerators.
“The usage of dump sites is expensive with land cost as one of the burdening factors, while WTE plants are cleaner, more productive and more economical, ” she said in April, adding that it would also enable the country to generate revenue through the production of renewable energy.
Another visible change is the construction works for a regional sewage treatment plant in Pasir Bogak, as well as a 3.7km sewage pipeline network that connects it with Hospital Desa Pangkor. The RM32mil project, which continues on from last year, is targeted for completion in 2021.
The makings of greatness
As for the food stalls in the concrete structures that have contributed to pollution and eaten up one part of the island’s most popular beach, Teluk Nipah, the state government has initiated talks with its operators to relocate their operations to an alternative location.
These seem to be part of ongoing efforts to encourage ecotourism on Pangkor, as there is consistent cooperation between the local authorities on the island and in Manjung - with private sector participation - to undertake beach clean-ups to maintain the pristine beauty of its beaches.
Apart from that, there needs to be guidelines for hawkers and taxi operators to streamline trade practice and enforcement in a structured manner, in order to ensure a consistent set of standards for businesses operating on the island to propel continuous growth and promote a more tourist-friendly image.
That said, existing infrastructure is insufficient to accommodate the expected influx in tourist numbers and to house emerging businesses set up to serve visitors. Against this backdrop, property development group DC&A Developments Sdn Bhd is among the pioneers that have been championing its growth, since it started its Pangkor Resort World (PRW) development project in 2012.
Located on the prime beachfront site of Jalan Pasir Bogak, PRW has already completed four phases comprising all categories of quality tourist accommodations, commercial space and accompanying infrastructure to support Pangkor’s current and future growth.
The latest phase to be launched is its phase five, the eight-storey Villaku that consists of 190 freehold strata units priced below RM215,000 and four kiosks. Situated a site adjacent to the Sungai Pinang Forest Reserve, the project will be a welcome addition in the provision of resort stay accommodation. It is expected to cater to the expected influx of tourists and visitors seeking value-for-money accommodation.Certain sections of the Villaku project have been earmarked for entrepreneurs looking to undertake a holiday resort accommodation business at a moderate scale. The majority of the units are targeted for island resort lovers to own a piece of freehold resort properties, without costing an arm and a leg.Thus far, approximately 35% of the works for the entire development have been completed. What remains is the construction of what PRW calls the Main Building Work. The project is targeted to be handed over to purchasers in 12 to 18 months. Current efforts are marking good progress for the island, but a lot more remains to be done to ensure the holiday destination can realise its full potential and continue to sustain it in the years to come.
Beyond that, there is another compelling reason to implement a structured and purposeful development plan for the island.
Due to Pangkor’s modest size, prompt and decisive action could lead to positive results within a relatively short time frame, meaning that the island has the potential to become a microcosm of what modern Malaysia has to offer the world, under the tenets of the Shared Prosperity Vision,
Mentioned by Dr Mahathir in July this year, it seeks to create an entrepreneurial nation where opportunities are identified and economic wealth creation is private sector-led towards value-adding, in which the resultant prosperity is shared in a more just and equitable manner among its people actively participating in the process of new wealth creation.
As it is, Pangkor has a chance to not only reach its full potential to become a leading world-class island destination for tourism, but also play a larger role in the country’s development.