Travellers are likely to take holidays closer to home once the pandemic subsides. Throughout the world, tourism businesses have seen an uptick of inbound visitors travelling from a nearby town, city or state.
It’s a trend that Malaysia is primed to tap into, say travel experts. Malaysians are spoilt for choice when it comes to the things that they can see and do at the many holiday destinations within the country.
“There are many factors to justify Malaysia as a preferred holiday destination. I would say our cultural diversity and natural beauty are primary reasons,” says Asean Tourism Research Association president Professor Dr Neethiahnanthan Ari Ragavan.
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He adds that there are many more unpolished gems for domestic tourists to discover, especially in different parts of the country.
“In fact, ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ is not merely a promotional tagline but something Malaysians live and breathe daily.
“What we offer in terms of tourism is diverse and multi-faceted. We have very different offerings ranging from our unique heritage and culture, coupled with beautiful sceneries, beaches, majestic rainforests, and mountains,” Prof Neethiahnanthan says, adding that eco-tourism is something we should focus on.
The challenge, however, is getting locals to see the country from a tourist’s perspective. After all, many of us have been conditioned with the idea that travelling usually entails going to a new destination far from home.
“It is naturally human that we always ignore our own backyard and look for something special outside. However, the pandemic has provided us with a fantastic opportunity to explore our own city or state,” says Prof Neethiahnanthan.Malaysians should take the initiative to find new ways to rediscover their home ground.
So instead of visiting the usual touristy spots, find places that look unique, or come with interesting stories to tell and historical backgrounds.
And instead of checking into the usual top-rated accommodations, look for boutique hotels with well-curated interior designs, or that offer community-centric itineraries.
“This will be an awesome leisure and recreational experience. Some known examples could be like heritage trip, gastronomic tour and eco-tours,” Prof Neethiahnanthan adds.
Break from routine
Another good way to experience your backyard like a tourist is by going for a staycation. You can choose to stay at a hotel on weekends and just enjoy the hospitality for an out-of-routine experience.
“Essentially, in order to break away from stress, Malaysians craving for a change and escape from routine could opt for staycations, daycations and workcations which are neologism consequent to this pandemic,” Prof Neethiahnanthan suggests.
(Daycations and workcations are when you check in to a hotel to use its facilities whether for work or leisure, but don’t actually stay the night.)
In fact, hotels around the country have seen an increased uptake of staycation bookings among locals after hotels were allowed to reopen for tourism purposes, particularly during the weekends.
Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown general manager Abhimanyu Singh believes that the surge in staycations is due to convenience.
“Of all the prospective reasons to have a holiday closer to home, convenience is the most apparent. From reducing travel time, to being able to reach a destination by car without the risk of border closures, or being stranded in another city or state, we believe that local staycations is the safer way of travel,” he explains.
Abhimanyu says he is optimistic that there will be a continued demand for domestic travel among Malaysians.
“Although the international travel industry will take time to recover, the fact of the matter remains that people are desperate to get out and about. We remain optimistic there will be a continued demand for locally-based activities and experiences,” he says.
St Regis Langkawi managing director Frank Beck meanwhile says that staycations give travellers the chance to reconnect with local experiences.
“A staycation provides travellers opportunities that encourages connections with local attractions and memorable food experiences. As travellers take the time off from work for leisure, they get the chance to learn more about the destination’s history and heritage with continued inspiration that extends into most aspects of their lives,” he says.
Beck adds that travellers are also keen to discover novel experiences, and hotel operators would need to step up their staycation offerings.
“Travellers would like to see new and desirable offerings in order to make memorable experiences, especially at times when they aren’t allowed to travel overseas,” he says.
Beck believes that tourism and hospitality players can attract more locals by offering packages that feature local traditions and rituals.
Abhimanyu agrees, adding that the hospitality sector will need to adapt to the current travel trends to stay afloat. “Travelling habits are continuously changing. Post pandemic, we expect the industry and travellers alike to be much more concerned about personal needs.
“Some changes, such as continued masking or selling event spaces at half capacity, will only be temporary, while others – like enhanced sanitation protocols and relaxed hotel cancellation policies – are here to stay,” he concludes.