One of the most interesting elements of the New Economic model (NEM) announced by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak was related to tourism.
I quote directly from his speech, “…the tourism sector has not been exploited to its potential. More can be done to attract new markets from Europe and the Americas to complement the markets from the United Kingdom and Asia.
We have some of the oldest forests in the world, rich with flora and fauna and diving experiences acclaimed to be unforgettable. Malaysia can lead in providing environmentally sustainable eco-tourism adventures that are much sought after by the advanced markets.
We should aim to provide services which will attract high-end tourists who seek exclusiveness and high value services. We must also be creative as we consider new areas of tourism. From medical tourism — a high-potential growth sector — to eco-tourism, luxury market tourism and visitors related to our growth as a regional education hub. Malaysia’s tourism future is bright if we have the vision and creativity to support its diverse growth potential.”
World’s largest service sector industry
As the PM said, Malaysia has long neglected the business of tourism, despite the fact that it is, according to the World Bank, the fastest developing industry in the world. Moreover, according to the World Tourism Organisation, 2006 (the last year before the sub prime crisis) was a record for world tourism with 842 million tourists visiting other countries, up 4.5% over the previous year. Tourism is now the World’s largest service sector industry.
Furthermore, according to the World Tourism And Travel Council (WTTC), 12% of exports, 9.3% of international investments, 8.3% of the world’s places of work and 3.6% of world internal gross product account for a share of tourism and its relevant sub industries.
Using the satellite accounting approach, which attempts to calculate the extent to which other economic sectors contribute to and benefit from tourism and passenger traffic, the WTTC also estimates that the travel and tourism industry in 2008 was valued at approximately US$5.9 trillion or 9.9% of global GDP.
Tourism is also a popular industry with governments because it impacts every level of society from the sundry shop owner who sells a tourist a bottle of water and a map to the car hire company, locally owned hotel and airline.
With hundreds of miles of pristine coastline, breathtaking islands and the oldest rain forest in the world, Malaysia should have a better developed tourism industry and it will be interesting to see what incentives the government offers investors and developers to encourage them to invest in the infrastructure and products needed to move Malaysia up the value chain in this beneficial industry.
49 million visitors by 2020
I managed to get my eyes on a copy of a report preparred by a respected international consultancy and commissioned by the government to provide data for the NEM. Unfortunately one of the key recommendations was to increase the number of arrivals to Malaysia to 49 million by 2020.
It has been a common thread in announcements made in Malaysia that volume is key and we need to be attracting hordes of foreigners to Malaysia to consider our tourism business a success. But this advice is poorly thought out. One example, imagine the impact of 49 million tourists, many of them blue collar Europeans who consider it their God given right to walk around without a shirt on (men) or only in a bikini (women) and quite often with a beer in their hands, on a place like Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bahru.
What we need to do is move away from this volume is best approach and look more at a value is best strategy that aims to attract smaller numbers of higher value visitors. This will also help with the infrastructure and talent issue as we do not have the people available to staff the 500 or 600 room hotels required to support 49 million visitors.
Breathtakingly beautiful island
One of the best natural destinations in Malaysia is Redang Island in the South China Sea. This breathtakingly beautiful island has slowly had it’s natural attractions such as the coral destroyed by boats dragging anchors, careless swimmers and greedy fishermen.
But the concept of volume over value ruled and so little was done until recently when the Terengganu state government announced that it will no longer approve any applications for cheap Chalet style resorts as it wants to make Redang a destination for high net worth visitors. This is a a sensible move that will also help save the marine environment and attempt to prevent further environmental damage.
It is a sensible move that the state government, and hopefully the federal government will offer financial support, wants to upgrade this amazing destination. But the state government should also understand that it is not just about changing the names of the resorts, upgrading facilities, spending large sums on awareness advertising and increasing the rack rate by 300%. There will need to be a significant investment in the upgrading of the resorts and also supporting infrastructure.
Here are 5 other recommendations:
1) Carry out research with stakeholders, prospects, customers and others to determine the way forward.
2) Work with carriers and others to improve domestic and international connectivity.
3) Find the right partners. Malaysia doesn’t have a domestic 5 or 6 star hospitality company that is recognised globally. Work with a globally respected and recognised resort management company.
4) Redang is a small part of the potential of Terengganu. The state must develop and implement state destination brand masterplans. The brand masterplans must incorporate measureable and relevant promotional strategies that are not based on traditional marketing techniques but leverage the power of social media.
5) In line with federal initiatives, reduce costs of doing business and offer exciting incentives for investors, above and above usual free utilities for 5 years etc.
We’ve heard about incentives for the tourism industry before but the government has never really pushed them. I have a hunch that this new administration is different and that this is a small first step in a revolution that is long overdue.