Recent incidents at the places of worship have tarnished Malaysia’s image of a harmonious multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Although no new incident have been recorded over the last ten days, the ones that occurred could harm Malaysia’s tourism message of a country where everyone lives in peace, in the long term. “We generally do not have any problems living together. Unfortunately our politicians always use the race issue for their own purpose, to stir up resentment among some Malaysians,” a young Malaysian Chinese seller said during the ATF.
Tourism Malaysia and the Ministry of Tourism recognize that the past events could potentially damaging to the country as a tourist destination. Asked about the recent tensions, Malaysian Minister of Tourism Dato Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen expressed her deep regrets about the incidents, and tried to look to new ways of fostering community feeling through tourism. “I must say that the large majority of Malaysians live in peace and don’t agree with the recent acts of violence. Incidents were isolated and we saw a very healthy reaction from our people. For instance some Malay have offered to patrol and protect churches to avoid new outbursts of violence. This is a proof that most of us respect other people and their religion,” she explained in an exclusive talk with E-Turbo News.
At the tourism level, the Minister is now looking to strengthen the programs that allow local culture to be better highlighted to all ethnic groups living in the country. “We take great pride in promotion of Thaipusam, a typical Hindu-related festival. We all enjoy celebrations of Christmas, the Chinese New Year or Hari Raya together,” said the Minister.
Dr Ng Yen Yen also referred to a new program put in place last year for domestic tourism. ‘Building bridges’ is a program to entice urban Malaysians to get to know the rural world better, in conjunction with a home stay program. “It is also a wonderful opportunity for all people to mix together. For example Chinese families can go to a Malay Kampung [village] and enjoy the sense of hospitality of Malay families and even participate at daily activities such as collecting fruits, rice or going to a rubber plantation,” explains the Minister. The program enjoys growing popularity: “ Last year, we had over 195,000 tourists and over 3,500 homes participating at ‘Building Bridges’,” said Dr. Ng Yen Yen.
Another step could be working together with the Ministry of Education to have school kids visiting traditional houses, places of worship or monuments reflecting the life of the various country’ ethnic groups. It would be a fun way to foster better understanding among the communities and promote tourism at the same time. Perhaps more new programs highlighting Malaysia’s various cultural routes could be launched. “This is not a bad idea. We could indeed study the implementation of such programs,” acknowledges Dato Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General of Tourism Malaysia. Tourism remains probably one of the most efficient tools to give all Malaysians the feeling of sharing one single destiny as a nation. And both Minister and Director General fully agree on that.
The Minister also indicated that she is very satisfied with Malaysia’s performance in 2009. The country achieved a remarkable growth of 7.2%, with total arrivals culminating at 23.65 million. Regional markets contributed the bulk of visitors with Singapore alone representing 12.73 million arrivals, followed by Indonesia (2.41 million) and Thailand (1.45 million). “This result was achieved thanks to our efforts in aggressively promoting Malaysia as one of the preferred holiday destination in the region. I am also very pleased to see that China broke the one million mark for the first time,” commented the Minister.
Asked if now would be the time to change the slogan ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’, Dato Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen sounded unconvinced: “ We discussed it many times over the last year. But frankly, look at big brands such as Mc Donald’s, KFC or Coca Cola. They did not changed over the years and still enjoy high popularity. The ‘Truly Asia’ tag is now a permanent core feature of our marketing and promotion. It is successful, widely acknowledged and it would be rather foolish to get rid of it now. But that does not necessarily mean that it will not evolve,” she added.