Good food, diverse culture and Malaysia’s natural beauty – that is Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi’s recipe to win the hearts of tourists for Visit Malaysia 2020. The Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister tells Sunday Star that he is optimistic about the year ahead.
IT’S a hot, savoury bowl of noodles that comes in many variations. From the hearty Sarawak laksa to the creamy laksa Johor and tangy asam laksa, we Malaysians love the spicy dish in all its mouth-watering versions.
But it’s the rich aroma of the laksa utara, famous in northern states like Kedah and Perlis, that trumps them all for Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi.
“We have beautiful laksa. But among all, personally, laksa utara is the best for me, ” said the Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister with a smile.
“You can’t get that anywhere else, ” adds Mohamaddin, who is from Lahad Datu, Sabah.
And it’s our tantalising local food, he says, that will be one of our strengths in drawing foreign tourists here for the Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020) campaign.
That, and our other unique charms too – our country’s beautiful natural attractions and colourful, diverse culture.
With 2020 less than two months away, the ministry has set its sights on getting 30 million tourists to throng our country, with the aim of earning RM100bil in tourist receipts.
“It’s a time when the exchange rate is very favourable for foreigners to come here and shop.
“And Malaysia is definitely worth the money, ” adds the Silam MP.
Malaysia will also promote its natural gems like the sky mirror in Kuala Selangor – a sandbank that reflects the sky, the majestic Mount Kinabalu and the green Danum Valley forest in Sabah, he says.
“Malaysia is blessed with all these gifts. This is why I am confident and optimistic that we will be able to achieve our targets for VM2020, ” he says.
“All we need to do is promote ourselves more and get people to know what we have.”
Mohamaddin spoke to Sunday Star about VM2020, possible challenges like “zero-dollar tourists” and other matters.
The year 2020 will be an exciting year for tourism. How do you feel about it at this point?
We have done a lot of work already, both overseas and within Malaysia itself.
Associations like the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents and Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association have done lots of promotion. I am optimistic that with our strengths, we can attract tourists to come here.
This is barring any unwanted circumstances like the haze. If the haze returns, of course, there will be fewer movements from tourists, not just for Malaysia but our neighbours like Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia too.
What do you think are Malaysia’s strengths in VM2020?
Our diverse attractions and culture. It’s a very favourable exchange rate now for foreigners to come here. We are a good place for shopping.
And of course, we have various types of delicious food, in unique styles from different states.
If you go to Sabah, you will experience authentic Sabahan dishes, and the same goes for Sarawak, Kelantan and so on. We also have much to leverage on our eco-tourism spots, especially our jungles.
Recently, there was some miscommunication between you and the deputy minister about the Egyptian pharaoh exhibition. How did you resolve it?
In the first place, if I was informed that the proposal has been approved, by all means, I don’t mind if the deputy minister or director-general were to announce it to the press.
He (deputy minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik) told me he will raise funds for the pharaoh exhibition from the private sector. I would never stop them.
Just do it in the proper way. We have come up with a conclusion that only the minister has the power and right to announce such matters to the media.
For government officers and the deputy minister, if they want to, they have to tell the minister. The idea is not to overlap statements, like what happened recently.
Will there be any similar plans to bring in other foreign exhibits for VM2020?
I don’t think so.
What is your main hope for VM2020?
I hope all NGOs, government agencies and Malaysians will work together to ensure VM2020 is a successful national agenda.
It’s okay if we don’t reach the targeted 30 million tourist arrivals, but we should at least achieve or hopefully exceed the aim of earning RM100bil in tourist receipts.
And if we don’t achieve those targets?
As it is, I am confident and optimistic. But it is sometimes difficult to foresee what will happen.
There’s also this challenge of having “zero-dollar tourists” or tourists who come to our country but do not spend money on local businesses. As a result, local businesses do not reap the benefits.
What we want is more tourists and more economic revenue. But these days, thanks to the digital age, more local homestays and countryside businesses have gone online. This enables foreigners to book their stays directly with local operators.
Traditional handicraft like songket and batik can also be marketed online and such efforts will generate income for local countryside folks.
You once said our museum entrance fees should be reviewed. Will the ministry be proposing any price hike soon?
Our museum fees are very low compared to some countries. If I am not mistaken, some foreign museums charge about RM45 per entry.
Over here, it is about RM5 per entry. A small price hike, at least, would enable more efforts to maintain and beautify our museums.
We will look into the possibility of reviewing the museums fees here, but it isn’t our immediate concern.
What challenges does Malaysia face in promoting tourism?
Malaysia needs to boost advertising and promotional activities, especially in digital marketing to address the lack of Malaysia’s visibility on the world stage as a premier tourist destination.
The lack of connectivity also hampers our efforts to promote Malaysia widely. Malaysia needs more direct flights from long haul markets.
Currently, Malaysia lacks direct flights and seat capacity from long haul destinations such as to Europe and the United States.
How do you plan to overcome such challenges?
With the Joint International Tourism Development Programme (JIDTP), we hope to increase accessibility into Malaysia via airline collaboration, operation of inaugural and charter flights.
Tourism Malaysia and Airports Holdings Bhd are collaborating with various international airlines and tour operators via JIDTP to increase connectivity and develop attractive holiday packages to Malaysia.
What about the use of social media?
VM2020 heavily focuses on digital marketing using various social media platforms. We are focusing on the latest technology, social media marketing and influencers to bring attention to Malaysia.
We have also created specific hashtags for Visit Malaysia 2020 which are #vm2020, #VisitMalaysia2020 and #MalaysiaTrulyAsia.
What is your comment about safety and security concerns for foreign tourists?
Malaysia is generally a safe country for travellers. Theft and violence are not particularly common, but it pays to keep a close eye on your belongings.
There were some cases of kidnap in Semporna, Sabah, but the government has assured that the sites and island resorts in Sabah’s east coast are safe. Semporna is one of the 10 districts put under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone.
If you were to talk to a foreigner who is thinking about coming to Malaysia, what would you say?
Don’t miss what we have here. We have a myriad of attractions and cultures.
In Sabah alone, we have 37 different ethnic groups, with their own traditional food and attire, way of life, beliefs and customs. You can’t experience this elsewhere.
We also have all kinds of natural scenic places like mountains, beautiful islands and beaches. You’ll also have the best teh tarik here, only in Malaysia.
How about your message for Malaysians at home?
We encourage Malaysians to travel within the country. It’s easy to go on road trips as we have a good network of highways.
Go for road trips or fly to Sabah and Sarawak if you are in the Peninsular. Drive from Selangor to Kota Baru or Penang.
I’m telling you, we are the best country, with our good food, many places to sightsee and shopping at very reasonable prices.
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