Malaysian travellers happy with focus on ecotourism

Sipadan Island in Sabah never fails to attract both local and foreign tourists. — MELODY L. GOH/The Star

The travel industry is allocated a cool RM350mil in the National Budget 2024, which was tabled recently by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

With an increase of RM100mil compared to the previous budget, the allocation will be used for tourism activities and promotions, including organising promotional campaigns for Visit Malaysia Year – which was previously set for 2025, but is now scheduled for 2026 (VMY2026).

The government will also be focusing on niche tourism markets such as ecotourism, scuba diving, golf, weddings and medical tourism.

We spoke to four local travellers to get their perspective on the newly unveiled budget.

For 31-year-old Adeline Lee, she prefers to travel within the country, as it’s more affordable and convenient. “You will not only save on airfare and accommodation, but it is also easier to plan the itinerary,” Adeline said.

She is a nature lover, hence she enjoys outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking. “There are so many activities to do when you are out there – jungle trekking, bamboo rafting and many more,” Adeline shared, adding that she’s happy that the government has set out funds to improve Malaysia’s tourism facilities.

Meanwhile, Elaine Lee, 25, said she’s glad that the government is finally looking into niche tourism as Malaysia has a great potential of becoming a destination for ecotourism.

Malaysia’s natural beauty has inspired her to venture into the underwater world. “I’m planning to visit Sabah and take a diving course with one of the local divers, thanks to the many beautiful photos of our marine creatures on social media.”

Veronica Oh, 30, similarly applauded the government’s effort to focus on niche tourism. Her home state, Sabah, is already well-known for its diving sites, but she expressed hopes for the pricing to be more affordable for locals. “More brand awareness also needs to be done to attract foreign tourists,” she said, in regard to the promotion of niche tourism.

As someone who enjoys travelling locally to various tourist attractions in Malaysia, she also noted a worrying issue that needs to be addressed. “It is important to ensure that business owners are legally registered, as there have been various cases of scams by unverified tourism-related businesses.”

Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli, 37, meanwhile, said that “the state governments must actively take part in enhancing the appearance of their respective tourist destinations.” Citing her hometown Ipoh as an example, she lamented the fact that the buildings and infrastructures are in need of sprucing up, as continued neglect may deteriorate the city’s image.

She added that they must also take into consideration the whole journey that visitors will take to reach these destinations, as unreliable transportation and poorly-maintained roads will deter potential visits.

This is a sentiment echoed by Elaine, who thinks that public transport should be made more accessible. “I believe transportation should be within easy reach when travelling to these destinations. Sometimes, it can take hours just to get anywhere.”

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