KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — Recent news reports of Langkawi’s decline due to the absence of domestic tourists are no exaggeration, as some travellers experienced.
Josie Thong, 34, said what she saw on a recent trip to Langkawi matches such news headlines as there were barely any tourists and the island is in a very bad shape.
“It isn’t just the island that is in dire need of a clean-up and rejuvenation... even the jetty at Kuala Kedah desperately needs a makeover.”
She explained that it was the first time her family drove to Kuala Kedah to board a ferry to Langkawi.
“Within seconds, there was a motorcyclist who offered to usher us to a private car park which he claimed would not be affected by the flood water if it rains,” she said.
Thong said their car’s registration number gave them away as tourists and touts immediately “descended” on them.
Maybe it was a Friday afternoon and everyone was at the mosque for prayers, but she said the township near the jetty was rather deserted.
“We were told that we’d be boarding a cargo ferry, this was not the regular ferry used by tourists but one that the locals used to commute to and from the island for work purposes.
“But what shocked me was the condition of the jetty and compound. The jetty is attached to the Kuala Kedah Marine Office and the premises definitely could do with some renovation. Even the restroom doors felt as if they were about to fall apart,” she said, adding that the compound around the area was rundown.
“As we arrived at Kuah town to pick up our rented car, I noticed that there was rubbish everywhere. While some may say the town centre has gone through some form of modernisation, I don’t think unsanitary surroundings are part of this ‘new look’.
“It didn’t smell good and neither did it feel very clean. Just a town centre with a lot of buildings that are not well-kept, and hardly anywhere clean to sit and wait for our car,” she added.
At the duty-free shopping zone on Cenang Beach, Thong said she felt as though she were at Kuta Beach on Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali.
“Most of the shops replicated the shops in Bali, I didn’t see much local products being sold at the retail shops.
“I was looking forward to buying some batik, but all I found was Indonesian batik. What happened to our local batik? I definitely remember Langkawi Island being very popular for its batik but I only found a very small selection in obscure boutiques,” she said.
The imported chocolates and liquor were quite cheap “but the perfume prices felt like there was no difference from Kuala Lumpur”.
Desmond Chow, 38, who was also in Langkawi recently, said most of the signboards highlighting tourist attractions were faded.
“If these signs are faded, then how do you actually attract people to visit these sites? I won’t trust a signboard that I can barely see. On top of that, some information boards are also faded and have moss growing on them.
“The least the state government can do is to at least maintain these signs,” he said.
Chow also added that local food is surprisingly pricey.
“I paid RM20 for nasi goreng kampung and RM25 for ayam penyet. I’m not sure why there is a need to charge such exorbitant prices for local food.
“I’m not even talking about Chinese restaurants where you order dishes. Those are also quite pricey and don’t taste all that great,” he added.
Some of the tourist attractions like the Langkawi Skybridge Cable Car are expensive, as Thong’s family found out.
“The basic entrance fee for the cable car ride is RM43 (for adults with MyKad) and to take a walk to the Skybridge you need to pay another RM6.
“If you don’t want to walk, you need to pay RM16 for a ride. That’s a lot to pay if you are in a big group,” she said.
Paying a premium price aside, there is dealing with badly maintained facilities. Some of the railings at the hiking trail were broken and this could be dangerous for hikers.
“This entire place is in need of thorough maintenance, especially if you are charging that much.”
On November 7, the Langkawi Tourism Association (LTA) said that the island also known as “Jewel of Kedah” is at risk of becoming a “ghost town” if Putrajaya does not step in.
LTA said there has been no specific promotion to make Langkawi vibrant again.
The association also said that out of 163 food and beverage establishments registered with it shut down their operations, while car rental companies have sold their assets.
“I think the island just really needs to be revamped, and I’m referring to basic infrastructure, and maintenance of local attractions,” said Chow.
“The state government or federal government needs to revive many local small industries such as batik, and once upon a time, there was cheese-making on the island using buffalo milk.
“These are small but very interesting attractions that not only bring tourists but help the locals survive. And yet, there is no attention given to these sectors,” Chow said.
Both Thong and Chow said, unless something is urgently done to bring back life to the island, they do not see tourist count rising again soon with the current state of the island.