RAISE your hand if you have been to the Sky Mirror. Or Gem Island, anyone?
If you haven’t, the Sky Mirror, known also as Sasaran Beach, is a “mystery island” in Kuala Selangor that only appears on selected days of the month.
Just as its name suggests, this unique beach is able to reflect the image of the sky, similar to the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia.
As for Pulau Gemia in Marang, it isn’t as popular as its sister islands in Terengganu but it is just as much of a jewel with its pristine waters and white beaches.
And as domestic tourism flourishes, the high local demand has led to even more “hidden gems” being unearthed, says Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.
“There are many more attractions in Malaysia to visit, and things to do,” he says.
Other tourist attractions have also earned international kudos such as Ipoh which was named by Lonely Planet as one of the best Asian destinations to visit in 2016, thanks to its old world charm.
Celebrity chef and TV food show host Anthony Bourdain has also given his stamp of approval to two Malaysian delicacies – the Line Clear nasi kandar in Penang and the Sarawak laksa in Choon Hui Café in Kuching, calling the latter the “breakfast of gods”.
And it is the exquisite local food that lures Malaysians out of their homes to travel to another state.
“Among the top destinations that Malaysians flocked to are Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, Johor and Kota Kinabalu – all known for their local cuisine,” says Tan.
This is based on booking data from online hotel reservation service Agoda between January and August.
“Kuala Lumpur is popular for its shopping and dining options, while Penang is known for its vibrant food, beaches and cultural heritage attractions.
“These two remain the most popular destinations for domestic travellers,” Tan says.
Negri Sembilan, Selangor and Johor are also high on the radar for holidaymakers as these states had the highest sales revenue for tourist attractions during the MATTA Fair last month, Tan says.
According to the Domestic Tourism Survey 2016 by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, Selangor had the most domestic visitors last year, followed by Perak, Kuala Lumpur, Sabah and Sarawak.
Certain niche markets are also picking up in Malaysia, including bikers who go on road trips in groups, says Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis.
“It is becoming a new niche market, be they superbikers or ordinary motorcyclists. Some ride along the highway and stop for the night at hotels before continuing their journey,” he says.
Uzaidi says that there is also potential in developing tours for city folks to visit orchards, fresh water fish farms and paddy fields to allow them to escape the concrete jungle and experience something different.
“For example, Mita plans to come up with tourism packages to farms to let visitors experience the durian and mangosteen season,” he explains.
He says homestays in villages have also piqued the interest of locals, apart from foreigners.
While the waning ringgit has led more Malaysians to travel locally, Uzaidi notices that foreigners from neighbouring countries have also been thronging Malaysia.
“Malaysians love to shop in Thailand, but now, the tables are turned. Many Thais come here to shop as it is cheap.
“Some Indonesians also spend their Hari Raya holidays here to take advantage of the weaker ringgit,” he says.
Nevertheless, Uzaidi says the influx of foreign tourists is good for the industry and will hopefully spur the ringgit’s recovery.