*A story written by Daniel Quilter, co-founder of Fuze Ecoteer*
You have probably all heard it – Malaysia, Truly Asia. I know you sung that ;-). The Malaysian government are very good at catchy tunes and this one is probably one of the best. The Malaysia, Truly Asia campaign was created to boost the tourism industry in Malaysia to diversify the countries economy, and it worked: tourism is now Malaysia’s third largest industry for foreign exchange. The tourism arrival figures are very promising with 27 million visitors in 2014, with tourists from Singapore and Indonesia making 60% of that total. These numbers are nesscaily tourists as well, but could be people coming for business purposes. However in 2015 the total number of non-Malaysians entering Malaysia dropped to 23 million. The feel on the street though is that the numbers are picking up again.
The target set by the government is that of 30 million arrivals by 2020. Can Malaysia make it?
The jewel in the crown of Malaysian tourism is and will always be Bornean Malaysia. Borneo has amazing branding value and people all around the world dream of visiting the mystical island of Borneo, me being one. Of course Borneo is most famed for its amazing biodiversity, endemic species such as the Bornean orangutan, proboscis monkey’s, Bornean Pygmy Elephant to name just a few and all of which tourists can see in the wild and take photos. If those targets are to be met and sustained then the biodiversity of Borneo must be protected.
But how about the other side, Peninsular Malaysia? Personally I have been living and working in Malaysia’s tourism industry for over 11 years, whereof over 8 in Peninsular Malaysia. If Malaysia is to attract an additional 7 million people a year, then West Malaysia’s tourism industry needs to stand up and be counted.
Malaysia is and always will be a family, wildlife and culture oriented holiday destination. Youngsters will keep heading to the best parties in town, which our neighbour Thailand is famed for and where the Philippines are now a growing competitor in that arena. There are there are four main races (Malay, Chinese, Indian and native people) in Peninsular Malaysia and with Portuguese and British influences Malaysia is a hot bed for culture. The food is out of this world, if you stay away from the western options and head to the local hawker stalls. However the Peninsular Malaysian tourism industry is now stale, maybe it got complacent after surfing the successful wave of being Malaysia Truly Asia. But with Borneo and several hidden gems in the Peninsular, Malaysia has a huge opportunity to regain those family tourists and a few more.
In Peninsular Malaysia there are numerous successful and impactful NGO’s and with MAGIC Malaysia it is now well known for being the engine behind Social Enterprises in ASEAN. So what’s this got to do with the tourism industry? Well tourists are increasingly looking for experiences, experiences that allow them to not only taste but also to learn how to make new foods; experiences that allow them to meet the real people of a country; experiences that allow them to help and assist the people and its animals.
Since 2013 Malaysia has a growing volunteering movement so the experiences are there, you just need to look.
I personally see a big opportunity for connecting NGO’s with mass tourism, you can very easily adapt things and add these in. For example: tourists can join for a normal 2-week package holiday, but join the Yellow House gang for one night and help cook for the homeless people in KL; or perhaps instead of going on a normal snorkel tour in Perhentian they could join the Perhentian Turtle Project crew to take photos of the sea turtles and help them with their research. The list can go on forever…
This can go for mass tourism if the packages are short and are seen as day trips and promoted by the larger operators.
Bringing us back, can tourism in Malaysia hit 30 million arrivals in Malaysia? I think we will, no matter what happens as figures are figures. But if the soul of the tourism industry is to be retained, then Borneo needs further larger scale protection and in Peninsular Malaysia we need to facilitate NGO tourism. Tourism in the future is all about the experience we give tourists and Malaysia could be the experiential holiday capital of ASEAN, if not the world.