A few days ago BFM, a local radio station, together with the Economic Transformation Program talked about the state of Malaysia’s domestic tourism in the face of cheaper air travel and accommodation abroad (have a listen to their podcast here).

Being someone who’s passionate about traveling in my own backyard, I called and shared my thoughts. I explained to the hosts that I have no problems traveling locally because each state has something to offer but the problem was that not many Malaysians know of the beauty of each state except those places that have been aggressively promoted by the Ministry of Tourism or have made into an international “top ten” list.

MALAYSIA TRULY ASIA

Most, if not all, branding gurus would tell you that a campaign has a life shelf of at most five years before it gets stale and worn out. In our case, “Malaysia Truly Asia” has truly run its course. It was supposed to be replaced with the vaguely called “Endless Possibilities” but the new slogan was shelved and “Malaysia Truly Asia” had to be reused for Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY2014). After this debacle, I do feel that it’s high time that we dump this decade-old tagline and focus on emphasizing the uniqueness of each region in Malaysia to both the domestic and international market.

Currently, a lot of resources are poured into wooing foreign tourists to spend in the higher-end hospitality and retail sector (in other words, glitzy hotels and non-stop shopping) while also highlighting the exotic nature of our tropical climate. So, most of the commercials and promotions for VMY2014 are not geared towards getting Malaysians to travel locally and this becomes the push factor for Malaysians to travel abroad, complementing the pull factor of low-cost air fares and bargain-booking hotel websites.

Does this ad resonate well with locals to make them want to travel domestically?

LOCAL LAH!

Once VMY2014 is done and dusted, a fresh strategy needs to be brought on board – my idea is to highlight the uniqueness of each state or region based on their affinity to the local flavor. For example, it is a well known fact that Malaysians are massive foodies who won’t mind driving two hours just to have a good plate of nasi kandar. So, a targeted campaign to promote all the foods throughout the nation would definitely capture a local’s interest in traveling domestically while the same content can be tailored to fit a foreign traveler’s wish list, as in “do as the locals do mantra.

Heavenly Nasi Kak Wok from Kelantan. Photo courtesy of blog “In The Name of Life..Hari Itu!”

Now, instead of crowing about the overused “Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai and Char Kuey Teow” triumvirate, we should seriously look into making regional dishes such as Nasi Kak Wok, Kacang Pool and Bean Sprout Chicken more prominent. This applies to other tourism products too such as ecotourism, historical trails and theme parks. The Ministry of Tourism should provide more funding and autonomy to its state equivalent but also provides a framework so that all campaigns are unified under one “national” umbrella. The shift from a federally-sponsored to a state-orchestrated tourism development program would greatly benefit the local economy because the latter would be given more leeway to develop tourism sites which has potential but overlooked for not being “bankable” enough.

MALAYSIA TRULY MALAYSIA

As cliche as it sounds, Malaysia is rich in culture, food and nature that has been effectively used to put this nation on the tourism world map. The 21st century has brought the local closer to the global community and it is high time for Malaysia to begin mapping out, detailing and preserving our heritage so it creates a sense of belonging to Malaysians besides becoming a selling point for foreign tourists to come again. Investing and developing our lesser-known local tourism products to the point of international recognition will definitely make Malaysians stand up, take notice, pack our bags and become travelers in our own country again.

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