Our tourism sector enjoyed a successful 2009, despite the H1N1 outbreak and global economic crisis. Encouragingly, the number of foreign visitors coming to Malaysia last year was about 24 million, a rise of about 7% compared to 2008, and Malaysia won seven regional World Travel Awards. It was also encouraging to see our country feature in Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 destinations to visit in 2010.

I believe that people visiting for the first time this year will like what they experience: a one Malaysia of different peoples, customs, traditions and languages, all united under one flag. Tourism Malaysia’s Truly Asia tagline is truly fitting, therefore. Our rich cultural diversity means that we offer exciting gastronomic experiences, places of worship for all faiths, buildings intact from the pages of history in places such as George Town and Melaka, and festivals with unforgettable images.

Our natural landscape is also diverse: from the gentle tea-producing Cameron Highlands to the untamed Taman Negara (the oldest tropical rainforest in the world), and from the corals of Sipadan Island to the lush views of Mulu, we are blessed with a wonderful country. Indeed, the majority of you who voted in the recent tourism poll decided that Malaysia would benefit most of all from eco-tourism.

To build on last year’s success, we will allocate RM899 million to tourism under the 2010 budget.We will continue to strengthen different areas of tourism, in particular eco-tourism, agro-tourism and health tourism.

Major new initiatives will include a drive to attract more participants from countries such as China and India to the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme; upgrading the quality of infrastructure in tourism centres; and having those serving on the front line being friendly yet courteous Malaysians; promoting tourism activities online; and providing more attractive tourism products and events.

In terms of new products and events, for example, luxury shoppers will be interested to know that an exciting new premium factory outlet, Johor Premium Outlet, will open its doors in 2011. Visitors to our capital, Kuala Lumpur, will meanwhile be able to participate in the 1Malaysia Lantern Festival, now to be celebrated annually. There will be many more tourism developments, but I would be interested for now in your thoughts.

Tourism acts not only as a source of income for our country but is a showcase of our diversity and unity. It brings us together. I am very proud of our diverse cultural backgrounds and all of us Malaysians, must build upon this.  As a Malaysian, we should also get to know our neighbouring states better and travel domestically to enjoy the various attractions and splendour we have. I for one will be hoping for a short retreat at a well known local destination hopefully sometime this month.

What other tourism opportunities in Malaysia would you identify? What else can we do to lure tourists and ensure that they have a unique and enjoyable experience? I look forward to your comments on Malaysia’s strength as a tourist destination for both our international guests and local residents.

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