This man has been at the helm of the private sector tourism industry for a number of years. He shares his thoughts on the challenges facing the industry.
HAMZAH Rahmat is no stranger to those in the travel industry. He has helmed the Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (Matta) as president since 2013. But he has served the association in various capacities from vice-president to secretary-general since 2000.
With well over 30 years in the travel industry and extensive involvement in Matta, Hamzah has forged a wide-reaching industry-wide network.
Recently, on Jan 25, he received another feather in his cap – well, two actually – with his dual appointment as secretary-general for The Federation of Asean Travel Associations (Fata) and the Asean Tourism Association (Aseanta). He was elected at their annual general meetings held in Nay Pyi Taw, the administrative capital of Myanmar.
“I consider it a recognition of Malaysia and an honour to Matta,” notes Hamzah.
He was also recently appointed as chairman of the Sectorial Training Committee (Tourism Cluster) in Pembangunan Sumber Manusia Berhad, an agency under the Human Resources Ministry to administer the Human Resources Development Fund.
He speaks to Star 2 on his busy year ahead and plans for the respective associations and also the outlook for the tourism industry.
Star2: What are your plans for both the associations in your new capacities?
Hamzah: For Fata, it is an appointment to finish off the term up to January next year, less than a year before the current term ends. I intend to strengthen the membership participation in the various activities of Travel Agents Associations in Asean and will expose Fata to other regional associations around the world.
For a start, Fata will soon be a member of WTAAA – World Travel Agents Associations Alliance – through my association with WTAAA. Also I want to expose all the members of Fata to the Summit of Presidents of Travel Agents Associations. And engage with IATA at the regional level for matters relating to Airlines & Ticketing.
As for Aseanta, this is a bigger challenge as the two-year term started in January this year. Besides, Fata members, Aseanta membership includes AHRA (Asean Hotels & Restaurants Associations) members, the National Airlines of Asean, including Air Asia, and the Asean NTOs (National Tourism Offices/Agencies) – Tourism Malaysia, Thailand Tourism Authority, and so on. My top priority is to ensure near-full attendance, if not full attendance, at every meeting of Aseanta.
How will that affect or help in your role as Matta president?
It will be complementary as certain issues are better resolved or promoted at the Asean level. Also, we could learn the best practices from the other Asean countries for Matta and Malaysia. Likewise, our very successful Matta Fair has become a point of reference and a good example for the others in Asean. Still we cannot think that we are perfect and the best, for there is always something that we can learn from others. This is the best way for Matta and Malaysia to improve.
How will your new roles/positions also help with tourism in Malaysia?
I will need to be “loud” and “seen”, so I will be heard and noticed. This is what I have been doing for Matta. Now, in the context of Fata and Aseanta, when I am seen and noticed, that would mean Malaysia is seen and noticed, too. That should be the way forward. Tourism is also about how we are being heard and seen or noticed by others, and thereafter the destination will sell automatically. There is a saying in Malay, “Kalau tak kenal, maka tak cinta.” (Which means, to love something you must first get to know it.)
What are the challenges/issues facing the tourism industry in the Asean region?
Too individualistic an approach to promotion! Every country is doing their own thing but we are improving. Hopefully the Asean region and community will one day be like the European Union. One visa, if any, that will be for the whole region and maybe explore the possibilities of one border, one currency and so on.
What about the challenges/issues facing tourism in Malaysia in particular?
Bad press – domestically and internationally in print media and online news; poor maintenance culture; shortage of local (Malaysian) front line staff; and lack of appreciation of (inbound) tourism by Malaysians generally.
What are the prospects this year for inbound and outboard tours in Malaysia?
Not so good. Last year was not as good as 2013. The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in April is creating a lot of uncertainty. It will take about six months for the market to “settle down”. Low disposable income will limit the amount of travelling the public will undertake.
What are your suggestions on improving our tourism products?
We need to re-invent or re-introduce the “Tourism Development” unit/board to look into the development of tourism products, travel spots and so on as a whole. To consolidate all under “one roof” instead of having individual states do their own. We have to have a masterplan for tourism development for every niche and corner of the country. Currently, it is lop-sided towards the southern region. What about the northern and East Coast regions as well as Sabah and Sarawak? In the first two regions, especially, our products are quite “stale”.
What can Malaysians look forward to this year in travel?
To pay for GST when travelling domestically. So, be on the look out for nearby regional or Asean destinations. Malaysians are very good at comparing prices.