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The eco-tourism experience delivered through tailored packages and services is a sound strategy to appeal to visitors from all over the world. PIC COURTESY OF ZAHARAH OTHMAN
The eco-tourism experience delivered through tailored packages and services is a sound strategy to appeal to visitors from all over the world. PIC COURTESY OF ZAHARAH OTHMAN

THE tube on the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport was packed. It's the line where you have tourists escaping the cold and the impending Beast of the East, with their families and big luggage, with dreams of warmer climes.

I offered my seat to a lady with baby in her kangaroo pouch and a toddler in a stroller. Say thank you to the lady, she said to her daughter in the stroller.

“Thank you,” she beamed and broke into the biggest smile as she announced, “I am going to Malaysia!”

Aged 5, she has already been introduced to Malaysia and her doting mother must have told her what's in store for them; the sandy beaches, the turtles, palm leaves dancing in the wind, orang utans and more.

It has been my fervent hope that youngsters from the United Kingdom are introduced to Malaysia.

At whatever age that they are introduced to somewhere new, I bet they will remember and the memories, if good, will bring them back.

Year after year, I attend the World Travel Market (WTM), one of the biggest travel fairs for the tourist industries from all over the world. And year after year there are new ideas and tourism products to attract people to the destinations.

For Malaysia, the year 2019, is the final push to get the targeted 30 million tourists from all over the world for Visit Malaysia Year 2020. From the United Kingdom, a traditional market for Malaysia, it is hoped that almost quarter of that number will come from here.

This year, the familiar sight of buses and taxies adorned with Malaysian tourist attractions, are making their rounds again along routes that would attract attention not only of the locals but also tourists from all over the world. And to facilitate tourists to get to these destinations are tourist agencies with packages to make their dream holiday come true.

At the Malaysian pavilion at WTM this year, there was a huge presence of delegations from state governments to hoteliers and tourism agencies ‘selling’ and marketing their products. This year, the Malaysian Health Travel Council (MHTC) pavilion seemed to be the busiest with nonstop networking and engaging with potential partners.

Malaysia has a very strong reputation as a healthcare destination. Indeed, it has secured Malaysia’s place firmly as the best medical health destination. At the WTM, it unveiled the Malaysia Year of healthcare Travel (MyHT2020) campaign, hosted in tandem with VMY 2020.

MHTC Chief Executive Officer Sherene Azli and her team had relentlessly gone out to promote their product to people not just seeking healthcare but also enjoy the fun and sun available.

Talking to some of the promoters, the keyword that kept recurring is eco-tourism. Destinations in Pahang, Langkawi, Perak, to name a few, all echoed the same strategy to appeal to eco tourists from all over the world.

Just a few days ago, I was watching a video clip made by my daughter who is temporarily residing in Terengganu. She is rediscovering her roots by documenting under-appreciated local traditions for a project by the University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) called the Mek Flora Setiu Wetlands Project, with Dr. Jarina Mohd Jani as the Project Leader.

A London bus and taxi displaying Malaysian destinations.
A London bus and taxi displaying Malaysian destinations.

“This project, a social entrepreneurship initiative, creates branding opportunities for the users to showcase their unique relationship through the development of experiential eco-tourism products,” she said, adding the project involved 24 participants from 5 villages namely Beting Lintang, Gong Batu, Pengkalan Gelap, Fikri and Beris Tok Ku.

Jarina said users would get to share knowledge and demonstrate skills as eco-tourism packages and services.

“Our emphasis is on high-quality experience that stays with the visitors long after the visit, not the products that they make per se,” she said, about the project, funded by UMT’s Translational Research Grant.

She added: “Iconic village craft workshops, Setiu Wetlands discovery training modules and social entrepreneurship networks are among the project outputs that we hope will raise the profile of these ladies, whose unique connection to the wild plants of Setiu Wetlands should be one of the eco-tourism highlights of this unique East Coast ecoregion.”

Several mat weavers and basket makers made their presence at WTM before and this has proven to be quite a magnet in attracting visitors to the pavilion. It seems a pity that these ladies have not been employed to come and showcase their talents and tell their eco-tourism stories.

Uzaidi Udanis of the Tourism Productivity Nexus (TPN) lamented that new destinations such as Vietnam and Indonesia had become strong competitors for Malaysia .

“A lot of these destinations have learned and copied the way Malaysia manages and markets the destinations.

“Additionally, digital disruptions also encouraged new destinations which were unknown before, promoting directly to the market,” said Uzaidi.

He said tourism products need to be revamped in order to boost feel-good factor holiday experience.

“TPN has organised 13 series of Inbound Tourism Bootcamp (ITB) where we trained more than 500 tourism entrepreneurs to create new experiences for tourists.

“The tour products such as Che Det Walks in Kedah and Blue Hole in Lahad Datu are getting popular.

“Secondly, we have to upgrade the quality of service delivery. Neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia are known for the way they treat their customers.

A woman weaver of the Mek Flora UMT Project. - Pic by Nur Hannah Wan
A woman weaver of the Mek Flora UMT Project. - Pic by Nur Hannah Wan

“They have great customer service and have high-quality service delivery. Malaysia cannot be left behind.”

He said TPN had initiated a tourism industry standard which would encourage tourism players to upgrade their services.

“The certification is called Malaysia Tourism Excellent Certification (MaTEX) which has six standards covering Travel Agents, Events Management, Events Venue, Adventure Company, Product Operator and Homestay.

Uzaidi said there were 200 tourism companies certified at present and by end of next month, the certification would be launched by the Minister of Tourism.

To boost international promotional activities in the UK, he said TPN was aiming at working with the Islamic TV Channel to target 4 millions British Muslims. In addition, TPN hopes to organise a few series of Webinar Networking and Meet Up in UK.

These plans are perhaps too late for VMY 2020. British tourists plan their holidays months or even years in advance.

My old veteran friends from the British army who served in Malaya, still make their yearly trips there because of the memories of the country they love and still treasure.

I hope that 5 year old toddler will have some beautiful memories in Malaysia, beautiful and exciting enough to make her go back again and again.

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