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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Malaysia really ready for VMY 2007?

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And are we really serious about being a world class tourism destination?

Image hosting by Photobucket A few news reports and blog posts prompted this post, namely:
The Star - Flies Plague Matang Complex
Screenshots - LCCT: Hand-written notice, 28 delays, 1 cancellation, up to 5 hours wait...
NST - More airport cabs to meet demand

As of today, we are a mere 17 days away from the start of Visit Malaysia Year 2007.

Is Malaysia really ready?
(more tourism thoughts in the full post)

A small disclaimer - this post is not about to solve all of Malaysia's tourism logistics problems, and for sure there are many. Along the way, we will also take a look at the presence of tourism related information online, while doing a little compare and contrast with tourism promotions from our neighbors to the north and south of us.

For sure, a lot of promotions are being carried out. Last month, when Walski was in Norway, he managed to catch VMY 2007 commercial on CNN. Online, a Google search of "VMY 2007" lists 126,000 hits (as of earlier today). There is also a cyber-campaign site, VMCC, through which one can send promotional e-mails and e-cards to invite guests to Malaysia (no blog campaigns, though). The VMY promo video can also be found on YouTube (there's more than one, in fact).

So, the word is getting out okay, it would appear.

But the VMY 2007 portal could do with a little bit of improvement, and it does somewhat pale to the tourism portals for Thailand and Singapore (which has even been nominated for a Webby). Not that it lacks content - one is able to zoom into some of the attractions that are available throughout Malaysia, and does have links to major hotels and travel agencies. But at a glance, the tourism authorities of Malaysia seem to focus more on "officially cultural" events, whereas the ones from our two neighbors include a lot of other activities, which can equally act as attractors to Malaysia.

It would also seem as though the tourism authorities have not really taken advantage of the viral nature of the web. For example, a tie-up with KLue could provide many additional entertainment events, which can act as added attractions. There are a number of Malaysia-based websites that focus on tourism, but sadly, these have not been linked to the portal. Similarly, another good leverage not taken advantage of has been travel-related sites such as Lonely Planet. Or on Malaysia travel or tourism related blogs, such as Malaysian Hotels Promotions.

Another disconnect Walski noticed is in the linkage between the VMY 2007 portal and the various state tourism sites. Take for example, the World Music Festival in Penang (July 20 - 22, 2007) listed in the events section of the portal. The weblink for more information points to the Minsitry of Tourism website, which doesn't have any information on the festival. Going to the Penang Tourism website was equally disappointing - no events for 2007 have even been listed yet. The Kedah Tourism site is even worse - it hasn't been updated since 2005!

Image hosting by PhotobucketBut two state tourism websites that are rather impressive are the ones for Sabah and Sarawak. And for a change, the events calendars are kept up to date, and don't exclude entertainment information and links, unlike some of the other Malaysian tourism sites. The Sabah tourism site has even taken the trouble to provide multi-language support (similar to what the Singapore tourism site has done, although only Japanese is available currently). It would seem these two states definitely take tourism more seriously.

Overall, lots of online resources to look at, but unfortunately not as well integrated as they should be. It's not that Malaysia lacks IT expertise, but perhaps it's a creativity problem, or problems typical of bureaucrat-led projects.

And perhaps another area which the tourism authorities have taken advantage of is blogs. Maybe the antagonism that the government has against citizen reporting may have something to do with the absense of active promotions through blogging. Another wasted opportunity.

On the preparation front, however - are we really prepared? The lack of a rail link between KLIA and LCCT in itself is not a good start (Walski thinks that the LCCT was not a well-thought out project to begin with). And the fact that the LCCT is probably not the best run terminal in the country is also a painfully obvious drawback (and it only has to handle one airline). Walski's certain that there will be a rail link between KLIA and the LCCT eventually, but that will probably only become a reality long after VMY 2007 has ended.

And toilets. Overall, Malaysian toilets are nowhere as well-kept as Walski would like them to be. Most toilets are still wet and stinky, and we only have ourselves to blame. Walski doesn't see the toilet situation improving any during VMY 2007 (related post: You Say You Want A RevoLOOtion).

Once again, a main focus of VMY 2007 seems to be on the nation's favorite pastime - shopping (since no one's found a way to make gossiping a tourist attraction yet). The VMY 2007 lists several shopping events, including the annual Megasale Carnival (whose website,, incidentally, gives a "403 Forbidden" error!).

As for taxis, Walski wonders why the Government still insists on maintaining the monopoly by Airport Limos, and not allow street taxis to also pick up passengers from the airport. Although there are plans to increase the fleet size, why can't there be a system similar to Singapore Changi? The probable answer - enforcement. Malaysia simply sucks at enforcement. In the meantime, stories like these are commonplace, especially when it rains, and limo-taxis cannot get back to KLIA at a reasonable turnaround time.

If someone were to ask Walski - is Malaysia a world-class holiday destination? The answer would probably be - not yet. Yes, there are numerous wonderous sights and places to visit in Malaysia, but in terms of being tourist-friendly, we are yet to be at par with our northern and southern neighbors. We still have a ways yet to go to be as attractive a destination as Thailand or Singapore. Get there we can, but only if we really want to be a world-class tourist destination. Walski somehow senses some half-heartedness sometimes, within certain quarters.

While Walski doesn't doubt that VMY 2007 will be successful from a visitor headcount perspective (which always seems to be the bigger focus), one does wonder whether or not VMY 2007 will have an impact on creating more repeat-tourists, so thrilled by their visit to our country, that they would not hesitate to come back again and again.

And not just the tourists from the Middle East either.