TERENGGANU is not short of tourism products but the industry is somewhat fragmented with no clear leader to guide the players to become a united force that can spur the industry.
With every player offering his own package and promotions, hotspots outside the usual perimeters of urban excursions are missed out. If cost is a factor, then the industry, which includes the hospitality sector, needs to learn from top tourism nations like Australia and Europe.
I remember with fondness my experience of how tourism operators do things in Europe and Australia. They market their industry by promoting each other’s products and hotspots, giving tourists a memorable and lasting impression. And, the desire for a return visit.
On one of my visits to Australia, a tour guide in Cairns brought me for a walk into a rainforest and challenged me to look out for parrots along a boardwalk. In another instance, a couple took a group of tourists to a beach and they had a wonderful lunch on a makeshift bench while listening to the roar of the sea.
Honestly, the rainforest in Terengganu is full of wildlife. But sadly, industry players do not see it as a tourist attraction. As a maritime state, Terengganu has 224km stretch of beaches, which present some excellent sites for watching picturesque sunrises, outings and stargazing.
Unfortunately, the only activity promoted is turtle watching, which is not only seasonal, but often fails to impress when no turtles land on the beach.
The tourism players should be thinking of plan B or plan C to give visitors a lasting impression.
Likewise, during the squid season between June and August, fishermen will cash in on the bountiful harvest by hauling in their nets full of cephalopods, hardly leaving any for visitors to experience squid jigging.
Getting seasick or landing a few miserable-looking squids is not the way to enjoy the occasion. It may be the first and last time that visitors would want to try squid jigging. And, by word of mouth, they will discourage others from seeking the experience here.
Before the squid net was allowed, fishermen used a hand-line to catch squids. But because they could reel in only a small catch, they were all for the use of nets.
Maybe it is about time the state government designated a special place for squid jigging. Perhaps a few fishermen can be on hand to teach tourists how to make jigs.
Tourism is not just about products, but the experience. Ironically, squid jigging is promoted as an experience and it provides direct income to coastal fishermen for a few months before the monsoon arrives. But, without the squids, visitors will not bother to go to the sea.
The chain reaction will affect chalet and homestay operators, as well as traders at popular ports like Marang, Merang, Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Besut.
One may argue that the sea is big enough for everybody. True for the fishermen, but for those in the tourism industry, they need to satisfy their guests. Squid jigging is supposed to be a memorable experience.
Terengganu also holds many secrets for the adventurous. The state is a well-known destination for jungle trekkers and off-roaders who find the rugged terrain not only challenging, but also rich in flora and fauna.
Terengganu does not have the highest mountain peak like Pahang’s Gunung Tahan, but mountains like Gunung Mandi Angin, Gunung Berembun, Gunung Tebu and Gunung Gajah Terom provide an excellent overnight experience for those who love to explore rugged terrain.
Unfortunately, hikers going up these mountains do it on their own. Unguided hikers do sometimes get lost, and this is bad publicity.
These outdoor events need to be organised by a professional body that has the experience in guiding visitors. Safety must not be compromised because accidents in the jungle can cost lives.
Another eco-adventure trail is the one that leads to the world’s biggest and oldest Cengal tree at Gunung Mandi Angin in Dungun.
The trail was once popular among mountain bikers, hikers and campers, but after its opening in 2004, the dirt road had been severely damaged by heavy rain. Even off-road vehicles cannot pass through.
The Cengal tree was recorded as the biggest tree in the country in the Malaysia Book of Records in 2001. The 65m tree has a diameter of 16.75m and the longest buttress measuring 10.6m.
Its age is estimated to be between 1,100 and 1,300 years. The tree must have seen at least 40 generations of visitors.
If the state wants more generations to see this rare hardwood tree, it has to make it easier for people to get there.
Other eco-adventure sites that need to be upgraded with more safety features are the waterfalls at Sekayu in Hulu Terengganu, Lata Tembakah in Besut, Lata Belatan in Setiu, Chemerong in Dungun and Lasir in Tasik Kenyir.
These attractions are all located in forest reserves.
All these tourism products have the potential to generate economic activities, and managing them sustainably under one authority may be the best way to solve the problems faced by the state’s tourism industry.
Agencies need to work together to come up with a set of by-laws not just to protect the resources for tourism players, but to promote these attractions effectively from a single source.
The writer is NST’s specialist writer based in Terengganu. He is an environmentalist and enjoys capturing the beauty of flora and fauna in its fragile environment. He draws his inspiration from cross-county drives and off-road adventures