“One billion tourists, one billion opportunities”. The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day, celebrated recently on September 27, strikes a resonance to Malaysia’s journey towards 2020.
When I first took over as Prime Minister, our country was faced with the challenge of having a sustainable source of income to run the country. Back then, our oil dependency was at 41.3% and our oil supply was predicted to be able to last for merely 15 years. 15 years means my grandchild would grow up to a Malaysia that would be struggling to sustain itself if nothing was done to rectify the problem.
Hence, I initiated the National Transformation Programme (NTP) with a vision to create a sustainable system for developing our homeland. Our homeland is the sacred ground that needs to be appreciated and treated with respect; our developments must continue to go hand in hand with the best interest of Malaysians. NTP allows our expectations for 2020 to be achievable via rationalised means. There was an urgent need to diversify our economy and the tourism industry plays an important role in strengthening and diversifying our economy.
Malaysia’s tourism is now the 6th largest contributor to the national economy, contributing a total of RM161 billion or 14.9% of our GDP in 2014. In spite of a year of tragedies that saw the whole world grieve with us, our tourism industry still managed to attract 27.44 million tourist with RM72 billion in tourist receipts to boast. These are healthy figures that we are not afraid to flash out. However, the impact of tourism goes beyond tourist arrivals or tourist receipts, its impact is most important on the sustainable development of our economy and society.
Since the inception of NTP, the tourism industry has played a role in opening up new opportunities for Malaysians. Thanks to our aggressive promotional campaigns abroad, we are no longer known as “the country between Singapore and Thailand”. It has successfully showcased our uniqueness, our harmony and diversity. We are the model country for a progressive and moderate Islamic nation.
In turn, this has benefited Malaysians directly. In 2014 alone, the industry brought in RM19.4 billion of investment. More impressively, it has contributed a total of 1.77 million jobs (13% of total employment). The trickle down economy will benefit even the small homestay in the remote area of Sabah providing the local communities opportunities to enhance their quality of lives. The consistent growth of our tourism industry had also encouraged cultural practitioners to keep on championing our heritage as a source of living. I thank them especially for keeping our culture alive and reminding us of our identity.
In realising the potential that we have, from the beauty of the Borneo islands to our lush tropical forests and shopping heavens, we will make the tourism industry the new frontier in facing the current economic challenges.
The recently announced economic measures have seen an additional RM80 million will be allocated to intensify promotional activities in selected markets including Asean, China and India. Our strategic and effective promotional efforts abroad plays a vital role as it acts as a window to Malaysia, showcasing our rich and vibrant history to the world outside. At home, our National Museum will be given a new life with the new capital injection and I aspire to see that it will be of the same footing as the British Museum. We will see the same transformation to the National Monument and the Perdana Botanical Garden making it more attractive and accessible to visitors.
In 2017, Malaysia will be the home for the region’s most exciting integrated destination resort, the Desaru Coast. It will present a seamless integration of modern luxury living and fun activities, offering five luxury resorts and hotels, championship golf courses, a lifestyle retail village, a water theme park and a conference centre. At first glance, we may be seen as attracting high income tourists, professionals and foreign guests who see Malaysia as their second-home, but on second thoughts, this is perhaps a win-win strategy as they will be here to spend their money on food and beverages, tour guides, garments and many others which goods and services are owned and served by locals. We stand to benefit a great deal out of this model, be it from macro indicators of GDP and currency exchange, or at a micro level the income of locals.
Our diverse history, culture and religious diversity presents a great opportunity for tourists to get to know Malaysia and for Malaysians to rediscover our historical and cultural roots. We have a lot to offer.
For the culture enthusiasts, we can always start by discovering the legend of Mahsuri in Langkawi then hop onto the ferry to Penang to visit Kek Lok Si temple and continue down south to learn about the history of Melaka, home to one of the earliest Malay Sultanates as well as the Peranakan heritage.
For the adventurous travellers, Malaysia is home to one of the best diving sites in the world, as well as two UNESCO natural heritage sites (Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak & Kinabalu Park, Sabah). We are also home to exciting events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Le Tour de Langkawi and KL Tower Base Jump. Not forgetting that each and every one of these places are also famous food destination that cannot be missed!
In a recent poll conducted by independent Italian sources at the Expo Milano that I’ve just returned from, Malaysia is ranked third most preferred destination by visitors to the Expo. This, I believe, is a strong and positive indicator for the Malaysian tourism industry.
We are after all, a blessed nation. Blessed with a vibrant economy with good balance between physical development and preservation of nature, blessed with a harmonious multicultural society as well as peace and stability. Our diversity is a blessing, something that unites us, not divide us.
Malaysia is indeed a melting pot of culture, a destination that caters for all. A land of endless opportunities.