CAMERON HIGHLANDS, Nov 28 — Despite it being the year-end school holiday season, there are fewer tourists enjoying the cool environment of Cameron Highlands.
Equatorial Cameron Highlands general manager Patrick Tee told The Malay Mail that rooms were empty as worried travellers cancelled their bookings in fear of disasters such as the recent Bertam Valley mudslide which claimed four lives and left more than 100 houses and vehicles destroyed.
“Even though Bertam Valley is quite a distance from Brinchang, people think the entire highlands is affected,” he said, adding that room bookings and occupancy dropped by as much as 30 per cent.
It is believed this is the worst peak season ever for the largest hotel in Cameron Highlands, which opened its doors in 1996.
Rosa Passadena and Casa De La Rosa Hotel managing director Datuk Yee Shan Konsaid the drop in tourists could be attributed to newspaper reports and images of the Bertam Valley mudslide.
“People are imagining that every part of Cameron Highlands is at risk of such disaster, and they don’t like finding themselves in the middle of it,” said Yee, whose hotels had seen sales plummet by more than 50 per cent for the holiday season.
Hotel bookings also dropped by half compared to the same period last year at Heritage Hotel in Tanah Rata, another major resort in Cameron Highlands.
“It’s supposed to be the peak season now and yet the occupancy rate is less compared to the fasting month, which is the low season for the hospitality sector,” said Jenny Bausoch, the hotel’s general manager.
Bala Holiday Chalet supervisor R. Loganathan said there were only five confirmed bookings this month out of 38 rooms at the English colonial-style resort.
Wan Saleh Ismail, operator of budget hostel TJ Lodge in Tanah Rata, urged the authorities to tackle the problem of over-development in Cameron Highlands once and for all.
“Over-development is causing mudslides and landslides here,” he said.
Kasimani’s Strawberry Farm owner K. Selvam said the sight of barren hillslopes was disconcerting for tourists as they travelled through Cameron Highlands.
“I’m not against development but it is taking place all over Cameron Highlands.
“You can’t blame visitors for assuming that landslides can happen anytime anywhere,” he said.
Siva Das, founder of website CameronHighlands.com, which provides travel information to visitors, said the drop in tourists was also affecting other businesses, including restaurants.
“While major tourist areas are safe, we advise people to be careful as it is the rainy season,” said Siva, who also advised visitors to take the Simpang Pulai route which is safer than the old Tapah-Ringlet road.
Century Pines Resort general manager Shri Shailendran urged the authorities, especially the Tourism Ministry, to reassure the public.
“They must issue official statements to the media concerning the safety of major tourist areas in Cameron Highlands,” he said, adding that the situation was expected to improve slightly next month.
Pahang Tourism and Culture Committee chairman Datuk Mohd Sharkar Shamsuddin said any holiday destination that experienced a disaster was bound to have fewer visitors for a span of time.
Citing an example, he said New York experienced an initial drop in international travel immediately after the terror attacks on Sept 11, 2001, as travellers opted for other destinations.
“Cameron Highlands is safe as a holiday destination, and the state government will embark on more promotional activities to help promote it as one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations,” he said.
Cameron Highlands district council secretary Mazlan Mohamed Isa also gave the assurance that all tourist destinations — Tringkap, Kea Farm, Brinchang, Tanah Rata and Habu — are safe.