Commentary Lifestyle

The tourist wants a happy, care-free environment

A road popular with its late night street food.

Written by Aziz Hassan

“Mid-week Notes” – A weekly column – 11/08/16

THE foreign diplomats have been briefed and assured that Malaysia remains a safe destination for their nationals to visit but whether they in turn will agree to inform their people so is uncertain.

Countries like the United States, Britain and Australia have been known to issue travel advisory not in favour of Malaysia despite our assurances and we can’t stop them from doing this because they have their way of evaluating a situation.

In the case of waters off Sabah, foreign missions would surely base their advisory on incidents reported and no amount of briefings is going to change their minds. Even locals have commented on the frequency of kidnappings in those waters of late, which also included victims from Indonesia.

Our enforcement agencies also must not be seen to take their guard down when the situation appears to return to “normal”.

Since a few months ago we have put the army and police carrying firearms on joint patrols in some areas of Kuala Lumpur but those working in the city centre say they have not seen these foot patrols on a daily basis.

If you link this safety issue to tourism, our officials have to go a step further by looking at whether KL as a city makes the foreign tourist feel welcomed. The goal should also be to try and reduce any anxiety or enforcement action interpreted as high-handed and perceived to be based on profiling.

Look like a central Asian, an African, a Thai, Filipino or Vietnamese and dress in a certain way in some sections of the city and there’s a possibility that you’ll be stopped in the streets by uniformed personnel.

I have seen how their passports are checked and their handbags searched on the pavements, in full view of the public.

With tourist arrival numbers last year down to almost the 2013 total, which means less revenue for the country, this must surely be a concern for Tourism Malaysia.

Those familiar with the city’s night-life can attest to the fact that whenever there’s a widely publicised enforcement action on entertainment centres, the clientele goes down drastically for three or four days.

This in turn affects the income of the centres and their staff and ultimately the country’s too by way of taxes.

Follow the news from countries around the globe and ask Malaysians who travel often to foreign cities popular with tourists and they will tell you that enforcement against nightspots on the scale seen not only in KL but also in other major cities in the country is unheard of.

Who would want to go to Bali, Bangkok or Phuket if their chilling out time at the bars and clubs is interrupted by checks by enforcement agencies? Similarly in London, Paris or Rio de Janeiro.

And if there’s one place where tourism is picking up again after the weeks of street demonstrations and political uncertainty dragged the statistics down in the last few years, it is Thailand, just north of us.

Last year more tourists went there and the numbers so far this year are getting better.

A report from there yesterday said that the estimated arrivals for this year should reach 33 million, and that is at least three million more than our target of 30.5 million, which is about five million more than last year’s total.

One of their main targets this year is to attract more Russians, of whom there were 800,000 last year and about 1.1 million expected this year.

The other aspect that we are way behind Thailand is in terms of revenue from tourism.

It would be foolhardy for any country to ignore the positives tourists from Russia bring. Someone in the hotel sector in KL confirms that they are indeed big spenders and he wonders why we haven’t been promoting more aggressively our country to them.

By the way the Russians should feel at home in a city like Pattaya, where it is said that the Russian mafia moved in about 30 years ago to be involved in the entertainment business.

The other people being targeted by Thailand are travellers from Kazakhstan.







About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.