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SAY: #SaveMalaysianTourism - February 2, 2017


“WHAT’S with the hashtags?” I questioned my friend about his Facebook status on Jan 17. He had posted a picture of a tourism event T-shirt and captioned it with a few hashtags, followed by the request: “Go to any Tourism Malaysia Negeri page and show your support!”

The hashtags sound more like a call for help: #sayangtourismmalaysia (love Tourism Malaysia), #tourismmalaysianegeridekatdihati (state Tourism Malaysia close to our heart), #savetourismmalaysia, #welovetourismmalaysia and #prayfortourismmalaysia.

A week after the said Facebook posting, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz announced the closure of all Tourism Malaysia state offices. In its place will be five information offices in Terengganu, Johor, Penang and at the international airports of Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

“Ahh, now we have to rely on the state tourism department for media familiarisation trips. Tough, very tough,” remarked a friend, who is a freelance travel writer.

When the country began to aggressively promote domestic tourism in the early 2000 through the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia campaign, the local media strongly relied on “fam trips”, as we prefer to call it, organised by Tourism Malaysia.

Initially these fam trips were organised by its domestic division at headquarters but the state branches gradually took over. These state offices have done a good job as far as the travel writers are concerned. Not only were trips more organised, they offered better materials for the media. After all, who knows a place better than the locals, yes?

Personally, I have never met anyone who has as much passion for the products they’re selling than the staff at state-based offices. They may not speak in the standard Malay or English as they are more eloquent in their local dialects but this does not deter them from “selling” their respective states. And, most importantly, they’re genuinely warm and hospitable, a true reflection of the locality they represent.

Now that the task of promoting domestic tourism is left to the state governments, what will happen to the domestic tourism industry?

“A disaster,” said a travel agent friend, who has been in the industry for over 20 years. “Yes, state governments organised their own tourism promotional events but these were done in collaboration with the Tourism Malaysia state offices, which were the anchors that brought in revenue to the state,” she continued.

She said most travel companies designed and sold their holiday packages with the assistance of Tourism Malaysia. “Not all state tourism departments are tourism savvy. Only Selangor, Terengganu, Pahang and Penang have the experts who are as good as, if not better than, Tourism Malaysia,” she added.

A friend in Tourism Malaysia echoed the same sentiment. “Yes, Sabah Tourism Board is well suited to promote its products. But that’s about it.”

Based on my experience, these states and Sarawak are better informed and well organised to be independent. But what will happen to the others that rely heavily on Tourism Malaysia?

“With the current situation — social media and all — there is no doubt that the state tourism departments will be able to work independently, but they will be lacking in servicing the clients i.e the industry players,” he continued.

This, he said, differentiates the work of the Tourism Malaysia state offices and state tourism departments.

“We do not solely promote the state we’re representing but also cross-promote neighbouring states. I don’t think the state tourism departments would want to or even have the budget to promote other states,” he added.

Will the five Tourism Malaysia’s information offices take over the state offices’ roles?

No, he said, because these offices are regional offices. “It will be too vast and too wide for them to reach down to the players and the players won’t easily get the attention they are used to receiving,” he added.

With the changes, what then will happen to the Malaysian domestic tourism industry? Only time will tell.