Yen Yen's yen for collecting air-milesCOMMENT Rather than swanning around the world collecting air miles and souvenirs, the Minister for tourism, Ng Yen-Yen, should be cleaning up tourism within the country. Tourism, just like charity, should begin at home.
Friday, 29 October 2010 15:00
Friday, 29 October 2010 15:00
Malaysia is neither short of attractions, both natural and man-made, nor does it lack the infrastructure. When it comes to promoting tourism in Malaysia, does the minister need to traverse the length and breadth of the continents, visiting 26 countries and 61 cities, to spend a staggering RM3.25 million?
Ng should capitalise on Malaysia’s greatest asset - the people. It is people who make things happen. A major tourist attraction is nothing if the service is poor.
If people in the supporting industries lack basic hygiene and cleanliness, potential customers are put off. If the people promoting these sites are poor at communication, business is slow.
Ng may not have spent the eye-watering amounts of Khir Toyo, who took his family, their maid and his inner circle on a jolly to Disneyland for ‘work experience’, but she is close.
If she does not want to be ridiculed, then she should have exercised extreme prudence with the public purse.
Recently, her ministry embarked on the “1Malaysia Green, 1Malaysia Clean” campaign to promote a clean environment.
She said, “We want to develop a culture in which all Malaysians help to keep Malaysia clean and green. That should be their responsibilities.”
The operative words here are “green” and “responsibilities”.
Ng has been irresponsible in sending out mixed messages and irresponsible in making excessive trips. Being ‘green’ cannot be achieved with millions of air-miles (hers and her entourage). She has not reduced her carbon foot-print – decidedly not ‘green’.
Air-travel should be kept to a minimum and our respective High Commission staff empowered to promote tourism.
Or is there a hint of truth in the rumour that ministers tend to arrange trips to coincide with the start of the academic years (for their offspring to attend overseas schools) or the sales/promotion season (for world famous department stores like Tiffany’s or Harrods) or major sporting events (like Wimbledon or the Melbourne Cup)?
More importantly, Ng forgets that the bulk of Malaysia’s tourism is dependent on local tourists.
When the rate of exchange is not attractive or if the ash cloud from Gunung Merapi rises to dangerous levels that air-travel may be halted (like in Europe earlier this year), our tourism industry would cease, but for Malaysians patronising these attractions, and spending money at home instead of going abroad.
We have been through several disappointing Ministers for Tourism. Many dwelled on big expensive projects or appointed obscure foreigners known to only 3% of the population.
Why do they keep omitting the most important basics like cleanliness, customer service, courtesy and commitment to safety?
In the 80s, an international program was initiated to improve the hygiene and cleanliness of countries in South-East Asia. A few years later, countries like Thailand made huge progress.
To this day, Malaysians do not know nor care about things they consider trivia, such as cleanliness of public toilets. If Thailand can do it, why can’t we?
Similarly, with the sex trade, the Thais promoted the use of condoms and greatly reduced infection rates of HIV/AIDs and STDs. At that time, our various ministries refused to acknowledge that Muslims had extramarital sex and so the ‘condom’ message was not highlighted. The ensuing result was that scores of people were infected.
If Yen-Yen is really geared up for improving tourism, she needs to clean up ‘at home’ first.
She must be aware of our poor safety record. She should implement and make enforcement critical, to improve safety.
Has she been to our little islands and seen how life jackets are rarely used? Or that children use life-jackets meant for adults? Or boats are over-filled?
Has she been on a long-distance coach ride and seen the things that Malaysians and tourists who use these services have to put up with?
Has she visited sites around the country which start off brilliantly, like the Snake Sanctuary in Langkawi, but which is now in a terrible state, with cracks in the glass cages or rubbish strewn everywhere?
Should something go wrong and a police report made, Yen-Yen is ignorant of the difficulties faced by tourists who find it impossible to communicate with police personnel with a poor command of English.
Or, as has happened, policemen who abuse Chinese/Japanese/Korean nationals - these East Asians are wrongly assumed to be Malaysian Chinese and expected to speak Bahasa Malaysia when making the police report.
If Yen-Yen has taken a disabled person out in Malaysia, she will appreciate the difficulties they face. Many of our visitor attractions have no disabled facilities or wheelchair access.
If Malaysia wants to be progressive, it must make ‘holidaying’ an experience to be shared by the disabled, too.
Has the minister ever been to any of the Tourist Information Centres in the major towns/cities? They are staffed by people who are friendly but who are let down by a system that is inefficient.
Some places do not have enough leaflets even though, they tell me, they have ordered from the Ministry in Kuala Lumpur. Leaflets lack up-to-date information or have typo errors. Many centres look dull with exhibits gathering dust or are in Malay only.
Some staff do not know what facilities are available in the various attractions and don’t know when certain festivals occur.
Shouldn’t the ministry make it a point of sending front-line staff (and not their bosses who sit cocooned in air-conditioned comfort) to these attractions so that they have plenty to promote from personal experience?
Yen-Yen must remember that not all tourists are Paris Hilton types who live by night and sleep by day and who spend money on Krug and caviar only.
Families who vacation here are concerned about cost-effectiveness, cleanliness and safety considerations. Backpackers may want ‘cheap and cheerful’ but safety and cleanliness are also paramount.
Education and awareness at all levels of society are crucial. Malaysia needs a tourism minister who has vision and the ability to lead a dedicated team.
We have had enough of civil servants on study tours or information gathering overseas trips, at taxpayer’s expense.
* The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysian Mirror and/or its associates.