April 2, 2018
By Salahuddin bin Hisham
POLITICAL pundits are expecting former Prime Minister and current Opposition leader, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to run for the Langkawi parliamentary seat in the upcoming general election.
But rumour has it that he may have second thoughts. Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) machinery in Langkawi is weak. Ideally, he should be running for Kubang Pasu, where he represented as Prime Minister for 22 years.
Unless the Opposition takes over the Federal Government, his victory in Langkawi will not benefit voters since the island is dependent on federal funding. Nevertheless, it has put Langkawi in the political spotlight.
Last week, it attracted pro-opposition media to report an NGO claiming that Langkawi could lose their geo-park status. An environmental group attributed the possible reasons to tree-chopping, eagle-feeding, and jet ski activities.
Unfortunately, the NGO has a past credibility issue. State authorities denied. UNESCO had only validated Langkawi Geopark with flying colour in 2015.
Nevertheless, the concern of the environmental group should be heeded. Such activities need to be controlled, if not stopped. The geopark status is a god-send for Langkawi as it is a unique attraction for international tourists.
The Langkawi Tourism Blueprint 2011-2015 mentioned past development effort along the “a little bit of everything” approach did not create a distinct brand for Langkawi and short of spectacular. Sustainability and environmental conservation were not prioritised thus making Langkawi less attractive to tourists.
For instance, Langkawi does not have a proper waste disposal system. The existing one along Jalan Ayer Hangat have been dysfunctional since 2010. Leaching from the waste pile-up may seeped into the Kilim river to a nearby geopark.
Local authority, politicians and public need to have environmental awareness and be committed to preserve the island natural asset. Otherwise, it would follow the common route of other tourism destinations to submit to crass commercialism and decay into environmental degradation.
Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah believed in the need to balance between improving the people’s standard of living and maintaining the island’s natural state.
Thus far, growth in tourist arrival for Langkawi is comparable to other famous tropical island destinations, except Bali. Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) forecasted tourism revenue to reach RM9 billion by 2020 from current level of RM5-6 billion a year.
To do so, it needs to address problems of seasonality, low yield per tourist and short length of stay. On weekdays during off-season, Langkawi looks like a dead town. Shops could be seen without customers and shopping malls empty.
This inspired Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to moot the idea of Monaco of the East at the launch of the second blueprint for 2016 to 2020.
It is not to emulate Monaco by having a casino, and opulence lifestyle on a principality the size of Hyde Park. Najib’s intention is to develop Langkawi into a high-end tourist destination for deep-pocketed tourists and spur numerous multiplier effects to the local economy.
The economy of Monaco is not spurred by only the casino but taxes derived from economic activities for and associated with the rich and famous.
The attraction, accommodation, activities and accessibility for luxury tourism has to be a truly unique experience and of high standard of service beyond excellence and usual expectations.
It need not be associated with gambling, glamour and high society lifestyle. Nature, environment and serene simple life offers a theme of itself.
Michael Schumacher is a regular to Langkawi. He cherished the simple pleasure of riding bike around the island, through the kampong and unassuming walk into Kuah town.
Langkawi not only offers blue sea and blue sky but green mountains and tropical forest. Tourists and artistes were attracted to other principalities along the French Riviera for the simple lifestyle of the villagers and fishermen.
It should be positioned as an oasis for peace and serenity. Flora and fauna, food, culture and history can be the tourist attraction and in itself, generate economic and tourism activities.
Since Langkawi is larger than Penang, mass tourism can co-exist with luxury tourism. To do so, the local infrastructure and tourism infrastructure need be put in place. People’s welfare must not be ignored.
To avoid housing problems as experienced in Monaco, the federal government has already looked ahead to build a RM242 million housing of five blocks of 11-storey apartments and should be completed in 2019.
A few months ago, Najib announced a RM1.3 billion development fund to expand the hospital and airport and upgrade the water supply.
Langkawi airport needs aerobridge and other facilities to cope with any future increase in arrivals.
Langkawi Jetty needs to raise the quality of its facility and service. Hardly any orang putih use ferries to get to Langkawi. Same goes with public transportation for local and tourists.
As for high end tourists, they expect airport and jetty facilities and services beyond expanding and upgrading the existing facilities.
The planned re-development of Pantai Chenang should have been allowed to proceed. It was to emulate Copacabana to make the beach public and shops and chalets hindering beach access moved to another nearby location.
Apparently, an iconic political leader pressured a former Menteri Besar to allow a crony to build a hotel along the beach and scuttled LADA’s plan.
The tourism resources are in abundance but require a different approach to the existing structure to develop tourism in Langkawi. If successful, the island could be a significant source of revenue for Kedah state.
The current approach with LADA undertaking the planning and implementation but local authorities undertake enforcement is not working well. It is not synchronised.
LADA lacks the ideas and experienced people to undertake the task. A new set-up with roles beyond merely approving submitted proposals from the private sector is needed. And high end tourism needs private sector management expertise.
A regional development corporation led by a GLC could be established. Their role will be comprehensive and include managing the local services, environment, economic development, human resource, promotion, public relations and stakeholders’ engagement.
Past practices of the previous administration to allow land grab on the choicest real estate held by locals should be stopped.
Instead of taking advantage of them, the villagers should be assisted to form partnership with trustworthy GLCs in a win-win arrangement.
First things first, get rid of the cement plant on the island. It’s both an eye sore and environmentally inappropriate for a tourism island.