‘We know what we want’


When snorkelling, you can also learn about the coral reef’s ecosystem as part of an eco-conscious travel experience. — Unsplash

AS soon as they arrived at the Incheon Airport in South Korea, they were whisked off to Jeonggangwon or the Institute of Traditional Korean Cuisine, located in Pyeongchang, Gangwondo Province, in the eastern part of the republic.

“We were taken there to learn how to make gamgjajeon, or Korean potato pancakes, and some other traditional dishes. Being groggy and getting a bit hungry, I was thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t even cook at home, why can’t we just eat!’

“But as I got more into it, it became really fun. And my pancakes were edible!” writer Mona recalls her recent trip to the land of K-pop fondly.

Most importantly, she adds, she got lots and lots of interesting videos and pictures for her social media account.

It also got the 25-year-old thinking if that was something that she could do at home too.

“I started thinking about where I can learn how to make roti canai or teh tarik in Malaysia. Just imagine what a great TikTok video that could be.

“It’s not new – my mum was always telling me about how she learned how to cook tomyam when she travelled to Chiang Mai (Thailand) when she was young. They even took her to the traditional market to buy the ingredients.”

Many millennials and Generation Z grew up hearing the once-ubiquitous tourism slogan “Malaysia Truly Asia”.

The slogan, launched in 1999, was meant to capture and promote the country’s unique diversity and has remained a mainstay of the country’s tourism industry.

In terms of promoting the country as an experiential tourism destination, however, frequent travellers from the Gen Z and Millennial groups are saying that what's being promoted lacks pizazz.

With our rich culture and natural beauty, among others, they say Malaysian tourism authorities should be more aggressive in their experiential tourism promotions. Many feel that the authorities are slow in committing to the cause.

Experiential tourism has been defined as a form of tourism that “involves an active and meaningful engagement with a destination’s culture, people, and/or environment to create unique, memorable experiences.” It usually comprises keeping off the beaten path as well as encountering authentic local activities and cultural exposures.

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Engineer Raveena Tangarajah, 35, points out that she is not even aware of Malaysia’s brand as an experiential tourism destination, let alone the offerings made.

“I think the government is not doing enough because I am a millennial who likes to travel domestically and I don’t think I am aware of many experiential tourism products in the country. Which makes me think their promotion is not aggressive enough.”

Another frequent traveller, who is also active on social media, Hwang Huongyi, 31, says the government and private sectors should be doing a better job of reaching the young travellers’ segment.

He says while one reason may be that it is still early, the “Visit Malaysia Year” travel campaign seems a tad lacklustre.

“Malaysia is rich in culture and nature, we have beautiful beaches and ravishing rainforests, great food as well as tolerant, polite and easy-going everyday Malaysians living together. These cultural aspects should be promoted more.”

Writer Nur Yasmin Ramlan, 34, urges more collaboration between local tourism operators and the tourism ministry. She says they can emulate the experiential tourism packages formulated overseas.

“I visited a local hammam spa in Morocco, which provided a relaxing and authentic cultural experience. I also took surfing lessons in Bali, enjoying the waves and learning from local instructors about surfing techniques and ocean safety.”

Raveena concurs and say Malaysia needs to offer something unique that tourists will not experience anywhere else.

“We do not have a cold weather in Malaysia but maybe we can take a leaf from the book of some countries in getting creative about their tourism products.

“I got the chance to try dog-sledding in Finland. It was an amazing experience and I will probably never get to experience it again. I still remember we had to wear winter gear provided by the hosts including a hat to protect my ears from the cold but the dogs ran so fast that the hat nearly flew off from my head.”

Raveena who had a chance to try dog-sledding in Finland, says Malaysia needs to be more creative in its holiday experience offers. — Parlo ToursRaveena who had a chance to try dog-sledding in Finland, says Malaysia needs to be more creative in its holiday experience offers. — Parlo Tours

Another frequent traveller, Nadia Hong, 31, says she struggles to find a go-to or one-stop source of information for experiential tourism that is credible, reliable and feeds her interests.

“I find that some local providers are also lacking in ability to establish trust. For example, I went to Langkawi recently and was researching some jetski and paddle board activities but most online results looked quite sketchy.”

Hong says when hosting guests from the South-East Asia region including Singaporeans and Indonesians, she finds out that they too are not aware of the interesting spots in Malaysia.

“They might have heard of some famous caves but not aware of the rappelling or top rope climbing activities available. Or perhaps they’ve not even heard of places like REXKL, much less heard that there are interactive art exhibitions held regularly,” says the management consultant.

Influencer influence

When it comes to travel, young tourists are not just consumers; they are also ‘influencers’. For many, creating social-media worthy “holiday memories” is important, and as such many say they also often look at fellow young tourists’ travel posts.

“As a millennial I look for good reviews, convenience and security in booking products, easy access to information and value for money. I suppose the best way to get all that is via social media through credible influencers and vendor profiles.

“If it looks interesting on my feed, I’m definitely going to save it and try to find out more about it,” Hong says, adding that most of the time she only comes across interesting activities via Instagram.

“I hardly come across media for experiential tourism. Most of the time I would discover interesting activities to do locally via IG, for example, a reel someone has made on their experience at batik painting or jewellery making among others. And these aren’t sponsored or promotional reels. It is by the public who share what they’ve done or reviewing the experience.”

Still, the young travellers stress on the need to go all out on online campaign to market Malaysia as a prime destination. As Raveena puts it, the Gen Z and millennials spend a lot of time online, so will more likely see the promotions on their social media.

Luckily, there is a lot of love for Malaysia as a destination, as seen in digital spaces such as YouTube and Reddit. On YouTube, where travel vlogs typically enjoy steady viewerships, there are increasingly more videos from foreign travellers documenting their visit to Malaysia.

Over on Reddit, there are various posts from international tourists sharing their experiences in Malaysia too.

Unsurprisingly, the consensus is something we Malaysians have known forever: Malaysia’s diversity is a feature of the country, not a glitch. These tourists are not just in awe of the harmonious multiculturalism in the country but often speak of how friendly and helpful Malaysians are.

Reddit user WhoLetTheDaugzOut, who identified as a millennial living in Thailand, says in a posting that he loved his visit to Kuala Lumpur nine months ago.

“Everybody from the barista, to the money changer, to the attendant by the KLIA train ticket area were incredibly helpful and spoke great English. When I arrived at KL Sentral, it was a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. There were people from all around the world, different cultures, food from everywhere,” he says.

Many postings and comments of a similar nature can be found on the forum-style social platform. But of course, Malaysia’s pride and joy – our food – is the standout experience for most international tourists. A quick search on YouTube for “Malaysian food” will reveal many videos from travel vloggers featuring Malaysian food.

YouTube channel Daily Max which is run by American Max McFarlin has several videos on his food experience in Malaysia which have amassed over 324,000 views combined.

“Foreigner can’t stop OVEREATING Malaysian food for 24 hours” screams the title of one of the videos. In the 55-minute video, McFarlin gushes with praise over foods like nasi kandar (which he described as his favourite dish in the world), cendol durian, chilli pan mee and claypot chicken rice, among others.

“My first meal and last, nine times out of 10, are always going to be nasi kandar,” he says.

For some, local cooking lessons will make these culinary experiences even more fulfilling.

It’s not just foreign travellers who are buzzing about Malaysia on social media; many Malaysian travel influencers are also keen to promote the country as a tourist destination.

Fikri Zamri has attracted over 309,000 subscribers on his Youtube with his slick travel videos, many which feature his travel adventures throughout Malaysia.

Meanwhile Nazirul Hakim, who has over 179,000 followers on Instagram, shares a lot of content about the slow-paced countryside life in Malaysia, winning him Tourism Malaysia’s Creator of the Year award under the Best Nature Collaborator category as well as Tourism Selangor’s Best Social Media Content for Instagram.

It’s not all coming up roses for Malaysia’s tourism though; foreign travellers have shared in online forums that Malaysia is slightly more expensive than some of its Asean neighbours like Thailand, Indonesia or the Philippines. Tourists have also expressed disappointment over the public transport options in Malaysia.

Reddit user Dear-Profit-775 vented in a posting about how confusing it is to research information about public transport options online, while in March, a widely-shared TikTok video depicted German tourists frustrated after being denied entry onto a bus. The German man said it was because they did not have Touch ‘n Go cards to pay the bus fare.

“There was no information on the bus fares, the bus driver told us we cannot board. Now I do not know how to get home,” he said in the video.

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