Datuk Tan Kok Liang certainly knows a thing or two about the inbound tourism trends of Malaysia. After all, the current Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president has been involved in the local travel industry since 1990.
“Those days we used telex and fax to book reservations. Today with digital technology advancement, we are more technology-dependent,” he reveals.
Of course, Tan – who’s affectionately known as KL Tan – is also a strong advocate of local travel experiences. “Malaysia offers plenty of popular destinations and enjoyable travel experiences to tourists. One of the ‘must-look-out-for’ is our food and diverse culture,” he says.
How do you think the tourism landscape in Malaysia has changed in the course of your time in the industry?
Our tourism industry is getting more developed. We have increased flight connectivity, more hotels and a variety of attractions and products. More importantly, customers’ expectations are getting sophisticated and complicated. Holiday makers want more personalised experiences and real-time responses.
The travel and tourism industry is now one of the world’s largest industries with a global economic contribution and remain the third largest contributor to Malaysia’s economy.
Regionally, what are some issues faced by the Malaysian tourism industry?
The tourist arrivals for Asean countries have recorded positive growth in 2017 except for Malaysia at 19.44 million, with a -1.5% growth period ending in September 2017. Malaysia needs more aggressive overseas inbound tourism promotions, high impact events and upgrading of its tourist attractions, among others.
What are Matta’s plans for the industry?
We will continue engagements with Federal and State Governments and agencies. A public-private sector partnership is crucial in making progress and ensuring sustainability.
We will also work on using technology solutions and e-platforms for travel agents to showcase their products and services as well as conducting training programmes to improve professionalism and enhance services for business and operation sustainability.
We are also seeking funds for capacity building in the travel sector from training apprentices to re-skilling and upskilling of industry practitioners. Apart from that, there’s also a waiver of import duty for luxury tour vehicles, while excise duty exemptions will be extended to all classes of tourism vehicles in order to attract more high-spending tourists.
How do you envision the tourism landscape in the region in the future?
Seamless travel experience from the minute they arrive and depart. It’s an experience that would make visitors return as repeat customers and upload their memories on social media. Foreign tourists may also choose to visit multiple destinations within Asean, leading to tour packages that are interconnected.
If you were to invite a friend from abroad to Malaysia, where would you take them to?
Honestly, this is a tough question and will not do justice to the offerings each state has. Every state in Malaysia is unique with its own attractions. From busy cities to gorgeous beaches, rainforests to temperate waters that are rich with aquatic life, there are many attractive spots in every state to visit.
My choice for first-time visitors would be Kuala Lumpur, George Town (Penang) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) as these cities encapsulate the essence of Malaysia – from being a modern and trendy country that preserves its diverse culture and traditions, to having splendid natural attractions.
KL is known for amazing architectural wonders such as the Petronas Twin Towers; Penang’s street food is very popular; and KK is famous for its seafood and wonderful islands. KK is also a clean and friendly city.
What do you look for then when you travel?
Comfort, good flight connections and the ability to experience the lifestyle and culture of locals.
What’s the definition of a perfect getaway for you?
Reading a novel by the poolside and having some drinks ... overlooking the sea. And being able to stay connected with your family and the office.
What are some items that you must have when on vacation?
I travel light to avoid checking in luggage, which is a time waster. I just take the usual essential items but an extra mobile phone.
What advice or tips do you have for travellers?
What you see from the Internet is not what you may get. Browse through trip reviews. If you have limited time, book with a licensed travel agent so that you can be sure of a great holiday experience and value for money. Be a “smart traveller”, pay attention to safety and security information. Also, respect the local culture and preserve the environment of the host country. Likewise, we expect tourists to respect our culture and not to pollute our place of attractions.