An industry once regarded as not so important, the tourism sectos has flourish despite global uncertainties. Deputy Culturem Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen speaks to SUSAN TAM about her plans for the industry.
DEPUTY Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen is feeling excited.
“The tourism sector has developed at such a rapid pace and people have realised the importance of revenue generated from this industry, once thought to be not so important,” she remarked.
Tourist arrivals have been increasing in the past five years and she has a reason to smile for the industry provided RM67bil in revenue last year.
Its impressive performance contributed about RM42.6bil to the national gross domestic product while foreign exchange brought in RM25.2bil, making it the second highest income-generator for Malaysia.
“The tourism industry has changed and Malaysian tourism players have also changed their strategies and marketing plans to fit in with the challenging times,” she said.
The global scenario has been altered much with the Sept 11 attack, Bali bombing and the threat of war in the Middle East, but it has not deterred Dr Ng's optimism and dedication to strengthen the sector.
“People are afraid to travel to unfamiliar destinations or go too far from home,” she said.
The deputy minister, however, felt that tourism players must not view the circumstances as threats to their business but as opportunities.
She said despite the uncertainties in the world, the tourism industry could still flourish.
“We must build up our regional and local destinations instead of depending on Western tourists or destinations.
“Our friendships with neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand must be strengthened to encourage more travellers to come to Malaysia. We must also not forget a huge market like China which also holds vast opportunities,” she said.
Response from tourism players for the upcoming 15th Matta International Travel Fair is encouraging, with around 200 exhibitors taking up about 95% of the booths available for the yearly event.
“This shows the vibrancy of the industry. Both local and international tourism companies are recognising the importance of such fairs to take advantage of the business opportunities,” she said, adding that over 150,000 people flocked to the two fairs last year.
With more players taking part in the weekend fair, people are recognising Malaysia’s potential as a top tourist spot with beautiful attractions.
“It also confirms the trust and confidence others have in us as a safe tourist destination,” she added.
Local tourism companies could target different groups of people for packages that cater to their needs, she said.
“Activity packages such as agro-tourism, eco-tourism and beach tourism are just some of the many ideas to embark on,” she explained, adding that target groups included senior citizens, families, backpackers and students.
She said she did not see the need to create new destinations as part of the tourism marketing strategy as existing destinations could be improved.
“We want to ensure that the present destinations are well maintained. Amenities like toilets, landscaping and the safety of a particular premise must be kept in top order,” she said.
Dr Ng added that “old products” must be updated constantly for them to be attractive, such as the exhibitions at the National Museum and the National Art Gallery.
“It is not so much the destination, but the creativity and lateral thinking of the tourism companies that matter,” she added.
Tourists must also experience the “human touch” and local hospitality when they visit these destinations, with bus drivers and taxi drivers playing their part in promoting the country's culture and beautiful sights to foreigners, she said.
Social programmes for the public must also be organised to inform Malaysians of their role as local ambassadors to help the industry, she added.
“The Government could conduct such courses but they would become regimented and rigid. If travel associations and NGOs carried out such educational activities, it will be accepted easily as a lighter approach is adopted by them,” she said.
Dr Ng also has several other suggestions for tourism industry players to improve the sector.
“Malaysian guides must be more vocal if they receive complaints that certain places are not up to mark or services are unsatisfactory,” she said.
She added that Malaysians were usually vocal only in raising issues they were not happy with and did not put their complaints in writing.
She said other measures that could be taken included hoteliers investing in renovations to make their premises more “Malaysian.”
What had really helped the tourism industry, Dr Ng reckoned, was the changing travelling pattern of Malaysians in the past two years.
“Malaysians have become more aware of local and regional places and realise there are attractions in their own backyard to explore,” she said.
The changing pattern of the Asian traveller was tuned to visiting places at home, she added.