Why it's important for Malaysians to spend and travel locally


Shoppers checking out pearls and other local jewellery at the Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. — Tourism Malaysi a

Whenever Lee Sheau Jing travels abroad, she makes it a point to shop for trinkets and unique items as presents for loved ones. In fact, shopping takes precedent in the itinerary of the trip.

Lee will save some money on the cost of food and by taking public transportation during her holidays, just so she can buy presents and souvenirs for friends and loved ones.

“I usually shop for special DIY items such as keychains, specialty coffee, biscuits or makeup products, ” she says.

The full-time masters student travels abroad twice a year, usually in May and at the end of the year. Those two periods are also typically when shops and brands have their sales events.

Lee’s favourite destinations for shopping (and visiting, of course) are South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Japan.

“The most unique gift I have ever purchased was a Bigbang light stick when I attended the K-pop group’s concert in Japan, ” she says.

This year, Lee hasn’t been able to travel abroad due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And with Christmas just around the corner, she has decided to do all her shopping in the country.

Some Malaysians are considering shopping from local businesses to help with economic recovery in the country. -SHAARI CHEMAT/The StarSome Malaysians are considering shopping from local businesses to help with economic recovery in the country. -SHAARI CHEMAT/The Star

“With the current pandemic, many independent shops and small businesses have been forced to close. I definitely am planning to shop for Christmas presents from local businesses to help them, ” she says.

Lee’s pledge came at a time when many businesses in the country are suffering from the economic brunt caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The local retail industry is expected to dismiss 60,000 workers by the year’s end. This reportedly came following a decline in shopper footfall caused by the various movement control order phases in Malaysia.

Power of purchase

The concept of “shopping tourism” has been on the rise over the years. In the past, tourists’ purchases were considered a leisure activity, a side motivation associated with travel.

More recently, however, shopping has become the main motivation for going on holidays.

But with outbound travel still at a standstill, travellers like Lee who enjoys shopping abroad will be spending domestically instead.

This is an ideal scenario that many local businesses are hoping will become the norm among more Malaysians.

There's been a decline in shopper footfall caused by the various movement control order phases in Malaysia. - FilepicThere's been a decline in shopper footfall caused by the various movement control order phases in Malaysia. - Filepic

Local retail associations – namely the Malaysia Retail Chain Asso-ciation, SME Association of Malay-sia, Bumiputra Retailers Organi-sation and Malaysia Shopping Malls Association – have proposed some initiatives to spur domestic spending.

In a joint statement, the associations proposed a targeted tax incentive for retail and tourism spending.

“To encourage domestic spending, we believe that the government can incentivise Malaysians to support local businesses.

“We urge the government to consider granting individual tax relief in support of domestic shopping or tourism, ” the group says.

The associations suggest a targeted tax incentive for retail and tourism spending. These can be done through individual tax exemption for a sum of RM1,000 monthly (or RM10,000 from May to December 2020) for shopping of goods and services.

“By encouraging domestic tourism, the local business ecosystem stands to benefit through the cascading effect which will indirectly support the recovery of the tourism industry, ” the associations says.

Made with pride

Malaysian Craft Council president Nik Faiz Nik Amin says encouraging domestic spending and tourism among Malaysians can also give exposure to the local craft scene.

“The uniqueness of our local craft products are what we should highlight among local and international communities at this present moment. Many have not seen and experienced the intricacy and amazing details on our craft products, ” he says.

Consider shopping for baskets, hats, decorative containers, and handbags from a local rattan weaver. — FilepicConsider shopping for baskets, hats, decorative containers, and handbags from a local rattan weaver. — Filepic

He adds that there is now a movement towards artisanal product choices and Malaysia has more than enough selections of handmade items.

According to Nik Faiz, local crafts are perfect as gift options during this festive season.

“Accessories would make great handy items to be given as presents, such as jewellery made from batik, twilly and scarves. Woven purses from pandanus leave can also appear ethnic and yet trendy at the same time, ” he says.

Nik Faiz also urges consumers to do their seasonal gift shopping with local artisans instead of big brands.

“In this time of difficulty, we need strong support among local consumers to keep buying local products, especially craft products. It will help many artisans in the village, and also in the city centre, survive, ” he explains.

The pandemic, according to Nik Faiz, has severely affected local artisans and craft makers financially.

“Craft makers get their income on project-by-project basis. When there is no order, there is no income for them.”

More conscious spending

While shopping can help spur the country’s economic growth, your ringgit spent might be of greater value to smaller business owners and social enterprises.

AirAsia Foundation executive director Yap Mun Ching is banking on shoppers, especially during the peak festive seasons, to spend with social entrepreneurs instead of big commercial businesses.

“Social enterprises are already essentially small businesses with fewer than 100 people. These businesses tend to be less automated and produce items that are hand-made.

“This means many more jobs, especially for people from vulnerable communities. With the current pandemic, this helps families keep food on the tables and children in schools, ” she explains.

Shopping from social entreprises can help contribute to the economic recovery of vulnerable communities. - AirAsia FoundationShopping from social entreprises can help contribute to the economic recovery of vulnerable communities. - AirAsia Foundation

AirAsia Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the AirAsia Group, has always advocated for more mindful travelling and shopping.

The foundation retails products from artisan groups and social enterprises from around the Asean region. Some items on sale include natural dye textiles, handmade jewellery collection, cycling accessories and upcycled multi-purpose pouches.

The Covid-19 pandemic, according to Yap, has severely impacted business.

“Our in-store business has halved since the pandemic because of business and travel restrictions. However, we have been able to make up part of these sales through our online channels, ” she says.

Yap also reminds that the profit margins of social enterprises are often very low.

“As social enterprises pledge to pay fair wages, their margins are often slim and usually sufficient only to keep the business running, ” she explains, adding that bargaining is discouraged.

“When we enter a big brand store, we are content to pay fixed prices. We should also have this principle applied to shopping from social enterprises.

“The 10% discount you are asking for may mean little to you but makes a big difference to the social enterprise, ” she says.

Shopping for experiences

For those keen on shopping for experiences, virtual tours have made it easier to connect with global cultures and traditions.

In Malaysia, platforms such as Airbnb Experiences and LokaLocal have partnered with local communities to create engaging visual storytelling and informative classes.

Sign up for a virtual cooking class and learn to make your own Yule log cake this Christmas. — AirbnbSign up for a virtual cooking class and learn to make your own Yule log cake this Christmas. — AirbnbAirbnb general manager (India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan) Amanpreet Bajaj says going virtual is just one of the means for small community entrepreneurs to adapt amid the pandemic.

“Similar to other businesses within the tourism sector, hosts faced challenges particularly in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic when travel was halted, ” he says.

Virtual tours allows hosts to recreate their activities online. This is particularly true for small craft makers and artisans.

“Many hosts are small business owners who often rely on income made from their “in-person” experiences, and this gave them a chance to adapt their business to continue to earn while bringing guests together, ” Amanpreet says.

This festive season, Amanpreet suggests signing up for virtual classes where you can learn to make your own DIY gifts or whip up an international menu.

Some options include weaving coasters using tees with a Malaysian multi-artist, making your own natural dye project with an artisan in Bali, Indonesia and learning to make your own Yule log cake with pastry chefs in Paris.

“Through online experiences, guests pick up something new while supporting our hosts, who turn their passions and skills into a sustainable source of income during this pandemic, ” he says.

Although shopping tourists have been grounded due to the pandemic, there is certainly no shortage of retail therapy at home.

Lee is of the opinion that she can still continue to pursue her love for shopping while helping local communities recover economically.

She says the simple act of shopping from those in need make for even more thoughtful gifts, especially during this festive season.

Buy local at BeliLokal

You can search for more gifts at BeliLokal (https://belilokal.thestar.com.my/), an online shopping platform by the Star Media Group.

BeliLokal features products either made, sold or distributed by local independent businesses. You can find clothing, jewellery, books, household items, services, hotel stays and even gourmet food deliveries offered on BeliLokal.

There are lots of Christmas and year-end goodies being promoted now, too. The platform is open to both shoppers and sellers. Just head to the website for more information.


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