Sabah criticised for low growth in tourist arrivals, is it justified?

One of the less mainstream online newspapers carried a scathing attack on Sabah Tourism Board today. You can read the article here

The paper carried extensive comments from a local activist who slammed the State government for recording what he called a ‘paltry’ 1.1% growth in arrivals for 2012 and blames this growth on a lack of planning.

I’ve worked to develop the tourism brand in Malaysia at both the federal level and with some of the State tourism boards and I have to say that although I have not worked with Sabah, from a distance, I think Sabah tourism is one of the most accomplished State tourism boards in Malaysia.

I do know that the State has invested in Tourism infrasture and although it has made some mistakes (name me a country, State or region that hasn’t), the Sabah Tourism Board appears to have worked hard to develop the industry and attract visitors to the State.

However, I do agree that a well thought out short, medium and long term plan that is flexible enough to react to the dynamic world today that focusses on delivering economic, experiential and emotional value (and not ‘me too’ advertising campaigns that do nothing more than waste valuable funds) is key to delivering a destination that not only survives but thrives. And as far as I know, not one State in Malaysia has a clearly defined brand strategy going forward.

One other issue that Sabah and Malaysia in general face is the lack of new products in the state and indeed in the country. Many of the visitors to competitor destinations return year after year because there are new products, opportunities and more.

In the face of growing regional and international competition and the changing tourism demographics that will see tourists from India and China looking for more than a beach resort with a well stocked bar, States such as Sabah and countries like Malaysia will have to invest in new products otherwise any growth, however low will soon turn into a decline.

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