By Anthony Dylan
Everyone loves the idea of going away to visit places. It does not even need to be so far away from home. Just a drive or train ride away to places like Sekinchan for the scenery, Klang for the historical streets and food, a boat ride to Pulau Ketam, onwards to Kajang for satay or even to Petaling Street area are good enough for you to soak in the experience.
We all look forward to short breathers across the towns and sometimes a hop away to Ipoh and Seremban or Melaka. Longer drives to Penang, Johor Bahru and Kuantan are also getting popular. Many opt for leisurely drives and opting for interesting natural settings for their stays. Travelling by plane is now frequent to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Penang and Langkawi.
This year, there would be more going overseas and while Thailand, Bali, Vietnam and Singapore became the first destination for many post Covid-19, countries like Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Korea and even Europe would soon be back to normal. The tourists from China are now making Kota Kinabalu and Kuching their main choices. The same could be said of the Koreans who flock to Sabah.
The main draw of tourism is about enjoying new experiences and being delighted with new sights, sounds and tastes. The same goes to any of us. When we go to another country, the majority of us would not go and seek shopping centres. This is exactly what the Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister of Malaysia had pointed out. It was a good idea which I personally support as we need to have tourists coming to Malaysia be awed by our historical, cultural and culinary experience. They should not be cattle herded into retail places and shopping districts. Shopping is done during the free time provided to the tourists’ itinerary when on tour. Those who come in should be able to find real tourist information instead of one chockfull of where to shop.
Many businesses have forgotten that their reason to exist is to be foremost to cater for the community and to provide for the community. When you just hope for the Government to stay idle and not promote our real Malaysia, then what can shopping centres or retail provide to tourists other than the same old same old offerings? Let us be blunt here, how many shopping centres even promote batik and handicrafts and local brands? What you get are the same international brands and the same large retail chains. They seek variety and this is where local shopping streets and even cottage industries provide.
To be honest, even wet markets and hawker centres and pasar malam offer the best experience. There is no need to look so far. Even domestic tourists flock to Ipoh now to the Old Area and upwards to smaller towns like Papan and Pusing and Tanjung Tualang. We have friends going to Johor Bahru for the huge Chingay events and to Penang for the Pai Ti Kong celebration. Thaipusam is a huge draw for Batu Caves and as we already know, even concerts when we are open minded about them. Sarawak knows best. The Rain Forest Music Festival, What About Kuching, Sarawak Regatta and now the Borneo Cultures Museum add to the draws. Even Siniawan which is a small and old town previously forgotten when highways were created to link Kuching and Bau have come to life as they focused on the romantic sentiments of history. The last Chap Goh Mei event even drew many celebrities to the area.
Do ask yourself, why would you go to Jiufen in Taiwan or to Kyoto in Japan? What makes Sydney and Melbourne unique? Paris? Bali? Siem Reap? When you really take a step back, it was and still is a correct way to do tourism. We should uplift the attraction of our festivals, food, culture and nature. Shopping should be secondary. I know many in the industry have reported how much their industry contributed to the improved revenue with arrivals. Then again, there is no need to have shopping as a main draw as many countries do not do that. It is up to the tourist. They seek local experiences and brands to buy.
In Australia, we look for unique buys, the same as Thailand. We should move away from thinking that our shiny retail helps tourism primarily. They do not. It is secondary. Shopping should focus on improving the local brands and create benchmark international brands. Look at Bali and Uluwatu lace. When you go to YouTube and see the main channels, many focus on the unique experiences. Even from expats living in Malaysia.
I am with the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture for this action. I hope he keeps to it though the many would try to pressure otherwise. We should encourage this effort to promote our arts, culture, nature and festivals. We are a colourful Malaysia. Remember what Sudirman sang before? “To Know Malaysia is to Love Malaysia” was a beautiful song. Today, Sarawak tourism has a tagline, “Sarawak, More to Discover.”
Yes, it is about discovery and the attraction is about the past, present and the future. People come from afar to visit because they want to experience similarities or differences. A celebration of diversity. Hence, instead of asking for retail and shopping to be a main draw, it best for the proponents to sit on the bench and let the first team play to win the hearts and minds of the tourists first. Let us not be selfish.