As authorities struggle to bring back the charm that made Penang famous as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, NG SU-ANN and PRISCILLA DIELENBERG talk to people in the tourism industry in this second part of the story on the island’s decline as a tourism draw.
EXUDING in heritage, culture and tradition, Penang should be promoted for its old-world charm.
“As it can no longer thrive on the sea and sand, Penang should re-package, re-structure and re-strategise its concept by promoting its old-world charm,” said Association of Tourism Attractions Penang pro-tem chairman Eddy Low.
He said Penang was in need of a “destination repair” and that cultural festivals like the Hungry Ghost Festival, Nine Emperor Gods Festival and Thaipusam should be publicised.
“These festivals don't need allocations from the state as the communities will bear their expenses. It's better to promote them than create artificial festivals or international events which are costly,” he added.
He also urged the Government to revive the bed-and-breakfast home-stay at fishing villages which was started a decade ago but had ceased its operation over the years.
Low said the state should also cash in on what many avid travellers had noticed: the large number of heritage buildings on the island.
The Pacific-Asia Travel Association (Pata) taskforce has in its report placed a “red flag” alert on the heritage, history and cultural elements of Penang.
Commissioned by the state authorities in 2002, the Pata taskforce stated that conservation and restoration of historical buildings and culture must be acted upon urgently or the “opportunity would be lost forever.”
Penang Heritage Trust council member Loh-Lim Lin Lee also said Penang's cultural heritage should be given priority.
“If Penang gets listed in the Unesco World Heritage list, the state’s tourism will fare much better,” she said.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion owner Peter Soon, who will be managing a new hotel on Penang Hill and a budget hotel in Chulia Street, said quaint areas like Little India, Muntri Street and Chulia Street should be closed to traffic except for deliveries during non-peak hours.
He said Chulia Street had the potential to feature quaint stalls selling traditional food like nyonya kuih and handicraft like beads and batik, similar to the Jonker Street concept in Malacca.
Chulia Street, famed as a backpackers' haven, was already lined with pubs, foot massage parlours, antique shops and budget hotels, he said.
Low also said the state should develop eco-tourism in Teluk Bahang.
“Although we already have the Tropical Spice Garden, batik shops, Tropical Fruit Farm, fishing village and Penang National Park, we are not even anywhere near to developing eco-tourism,” he said.
Tropical Spice Garden project manager Frederick Walker said tourism kiosks should be set up in shopping malls.
He said there were enough hotels in the area and chalet operators should instead be given incentives to develop hillslopes.
Penang’s crown – Penang Hill – has many exquisite heritage bungalows which dot the hill.
Hill resident Datuk Ong Eng Khuan, who owns a bungalow there, said the hill was home to wild animals like the giant squirrel, mousedeer, wild boar, tortoise and anteater.
He said the best time to visit the hill was in the evening, when visitors can view the city lights.
However, the hill's funicular train service ends at 9pm. Also, the tea kiosk had been closed for years, he said.
A frequent visitor to Penang Hill, Ben Choong, 36, said the Government should constantly work on promoting the tourist attraction, or risk letting it lose its shine.