Saturday, March 12, 2011


“The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011” by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WER) reported that Malaysia fell three places, on a worldwide survey of 139 countries, to spot number 35.

In the WER report entitled ‘Beyond the Downturn’, Malaysia was ranked 22 for its rich natural resources, 33 for cultural resources and 21 for its favourable tourism policy rules and regulations.

The report stated that the country was ranked 3 for its excellent ‘price competitiveness’ in the travel and tourism industry, with low comparative hotel and fuel prices, low ticket taxes and airport charges, very competitive hotel prices, and a favorable tax regime.

It received a modest ranking of 52 for ICT infrastructure, 34 for air transport infrastructure, 36 for ground transport infrastructure, 17 for ‘affinity for travel and tourism’ and 21 for affinity for travel and tourism.

Malaysia was numberd 46 for its prioritisation of travel and tourism.

The ‘price competitiveness’ pillar was topped by Brunei Darussalam, the Gambia, and Malaysia because all three countries benefit from low fuel costs.

Brunei benefited from low ticket taxes and airport charges, and low taxation. The Gambia and Malaysia were characterised by moderate-to-low taxes, low fuel prices, and highly competitive hotel prices.

The report also said that when choosing a destination, these countries benefited from visitors who were interested in getting more for their money.

Foreign visitors to the country may have been pleased with the availability of cheap exotic food. However, they were disgusted with the standard of cleanliness and this left a negative impression upon them. This helped pull Malaysia downwards.

Malaysia also performed badly in the areas of ‘environmental sustainability' (ranked 64), ‘tourism infrastructure’ (74) and ‘health and hygiene’ (75). WER commented on the low availability of physicians in Malaysia.

At the end of 2010, Malaysia was reported to be losing out to other health tourism destinations such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Bangkok and elsewhere in Asia despite its developed infrastructure for medical treatment and well-trained doctors.

The deteriorating perception of crimes in Malaysia also resulted in the country being given a lower ranking after it was ranked 83 for ‘safety and security’.

Ever since Dr. Ng Yen Yen took over the Ministry of Tourism portfolio in July 2009, the Opposition has been critical of her performance. They have criticised her for allegedly spending more time and money on touring countries overseas rather than attracting tourist to Malaysia. In addition, senior officials within her ministry were implicated in graft scandals.

So what is Yen Yen’s response to the WER Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011? And will she do more travelling this year?

Could we persuade her to stay at home and work on Malaysian tourism rather than spending a substantial amount of time abroad?

Perhaps we could ask her to work on the basics.

When WER said that tourists liked our exotic food but were disgusted with our hygiene, could she not work together with the appropriate Ministries of Health, Education and Community Development to educate our public on the importance of cleanliness and hygiene?

Our ministers are spoilt and used to being feted by business and individuals (perhaps in the hope of being given a lucrative contract or two) who offer these politicians the best available treatment and services, in their establishments.

Politicians only patronise the best hotels or restaurants and travel first-class or are chauffeur driven. They have no clue what happens elsewhere.

Does the minister ever travel by public transport? Has she tried boarding a coach to make the journey from Kuala Lumpur to the east coast for instance? Or taken a taxi and received shoddy overpriced service?

Perhaps if she did, she might want to liase with the Ministry of Transport and other departments to improve the highways, the selection of drivers, the condition of the buses, the motorway facilities and other safety related features.

Has Yen Yen ever traveled overland, on a sleeper train to Singapore or to the northern states? It is one of the most enjoyable forms of travel in Malaysia, but there are many improvements that could be made and no amount of complaints from members of the public, will induce KTM to make the necessary improvements. However, we know that a word from her would have the magical effect.

Has Yen Yen seen the condition of some of our government hospitals in the outlying states? Or negotiated the long queues that people have to endure in clinics?

If the minister were to go on a boat to one of the outlying islands in the east coast or Langkawi, she might be horrified to learn that life-jackets are not distributed mandatorily. They might be issued if a tourist makes a fuss or if the boatman sees the enforcement officers approaching. Often children are made to use oversized life-jackets.

Tourists are also shocked at the environmental damage that our government encourages. Look at how overtourism has destroyed Redang. Sometimes tortoise eggs are openly sold in seaside destinations. This means that enforcement is poor.

Plastic bags littering our inland waterways, beaches and roadsides are a problem but little is done about educating the locals about his problem.

In Malacca, a natural reserve created a man made waterfall at high cost, then planted selected trees after it had destroyed the natural growing species in the area. Afterwards, it had the cheek to call itself a ‘green’ reserve.

Has Yen Yen tried to put herself in the shoes of a tourist who has to make a police report? Has she seen the inside of a dirty, polluted, congested bus terminal? Has she tried to imagine the horrors faced by a disabled traveler?

When the opposition attacked her for her excesses, she retaliated by saying that she was proud to be responsible for attracting 23 million tourists for a country of 28 million.

We wonder if she excluded those day-trippers from our neighbouring countries, who criss-cross borders because of work or sex related activities.

But her dismissive shot was to declare, “You want to talk to a specialist, you talk to me.”

Well the ‘specialist’ Yen Yen caused us to drop three places in the 2010 WER ranking. Yen Yen needs to understand that before Malaysia sees any drastic improvement, tourism like charity, needs to begin at home.

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