What Malaysian tourism is missing is imagination

JULY 31 — I spent a few days in Thailand for a concert and while it was a nice sojourn, it was also a depressing reminder how far Malaysia lags behind our nearest neighbours.

While tourism is an important industry I wonder why we don’t seem to take it seriously.

Then I’m reminded how, in Malaysia, everything is a moneymaking scheme.

The problem in Malaysia whenever some sort of public initiative is announced — the first thought that will come to the standard Malaysian mind is “how can I make money from this?”

For most Malaysian so-called tourism entrepreneurs, the strategy seems to be spend as little as possible, mark up everything as high as you can get away with and pocket as much profit as you can.

“That’s just business,” some people would say.

No, it’s how the average Malaysian approaches business.

It’s depressing to go to Tokyo or Thailand and see local arts and crafts promoted, with anything certified as made in said countries more likely to get tourists opening their wallets.

In Malaysia, it’s rows and rows of ghastly keychains that were probably commissioned cheap from China.

Our cottage industries are dying while just across the sea, Indonesia’s batik industry is thriving.

What is there to be done then? Honestly, a thousand heads should (figuratively) roll.

Our tourism industry, not to mention our other sectors, lack people with vision, imagination and motivation other than milking lucrative government contracts.

The problem remains however is that the national character is hard to change. Grasping, greedy, fixated on short-term gain regardless of long-term detriment.

We need new people and I feel, that despite the Malaysian tendency to love money over God and country, there still are Malaysians who can do better than the lot we have.

Throw out the conmen, the fat cats waiting for their rewards for kissing up to VIPs and rightly, that should be the case everywhere.

However even now our politicians seem to not understand the notion of conflict of interest and encourage the culture of patronage and rewarding loyal “vassals.”

Our tourism industry’s ills are a reflection of our sickness as a country. I think perhaps we need to consciously rethink who we are as a nation but I suspect that will probably take another few decades or two.

In the meantime, let’s spare a sad thought to those once proud wildlife symbols of our nation — the tiger and turtle. At the rate we’re going, our tourism industry will die out right after they do until we learn to reign in our greed and maybe, stop to think a little.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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