NST Leader: Language of tourism

TOURISM speaks in tongues. Or more accurately, tourists do. They come from all over the world, by air, sea and land, speaking their language of origin.

Last year, 29 million visited Malaysia, making it one of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia and the 14th favourite in the world.

Some spoke Malay, the first tongue of the country — those from Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore — and some more English, Malaysia's second tongue as it is sometimes called. But more spoke neither.

Yet Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor thinks the Thais' inability to speak Malay or English is a major reason why relatively few of them visit Malaysia. But he is right though in saying that more needs to be done to promote attractive destinations in the country.

Ditto Kedah, we would add. Those in the destination marketing trade call that branding.

Truth be told, language barrier isn't a deterrent. This is especially true in the mobile phone era. Now all you have to do is speak into the phone and it translates your speech into the language of the host country.

Consider France, a country that is linguistically speaking French to the core, has for the last 30 years been the most visited country in the world. Why is this so? Because it is able to make visible to the world what it has.

For sure, no country can have everything every other country has. We needn't have the French Alps. Mount Kinabalu will do. Or Gunung Jerai in Kedah with its peak majestically reaching a height of 1,217m. The white sandy beach of Pantai Cenang is another.

So are the hectares and hectares of scenic padi fields. Not to be missed, too, is the Padi Museum in this rice-bowl state. These — and not to forget Langkawi, the jewel that was — need to be packaged as "Brand Kedah". Visibility is key. Kedah has far too many hidden gems eclipsed from the eyes of the world. Branding done well will make the gems glitter. There is one more thing.

The global tourism value chain of suppliers and intermediaries is a fragmented industry, with limited coordination among the largely s mall-to-medium players, according to a McKinsey & Co report.

What is true for the global tourism industry is true, too, for Malaysia's. Not only all the players in the value chain must get the coordination right, but the government — at the state and federal levels — must tighten their oversight if they want a share of the close to US$6 trillion global tourism revenue.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has done a huge damage to the industry. Many tourism-related businesses went bust. Airlines almost did. Recovery is in the works, but much help is needed from the government, which is best placed to help in the revival of the industry. A deep rethink is needed here. Malaysia has been very successful in attracting foreign investment into the country. But most of this has been for the manufacturing and technology sectors. Granted, it doesn't make economic sense for the government to get into the hospitality business, but it can surely make it easy for private investors — foreign and local — to do so. It is time to make Brand Malaysia visible by reimagining it.

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