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More entrepreneurs required to develop tourism sector Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 April 2009 16:31

FOLLOWING another recent visit to the arrival level at KL International Airport, I wonder whether the Government isn’t wasting millions trying to promote tourism. That is, unless it allocates sufficient funds for a new penal colony for taxi touts and rogue cab drivers.

In my imaginary model society, this would be a couple of prime acres of mangrove swamp somewhere east of Sandakan.

There, our errant drivers would be paired up with that other modern scourge, the expatriate personal financial consultant, two to a cell.

After being subjected to a month of incessant lectures on the virtues of buying life insurance and leaving a will, our errant drivers would be reduced to quivering and remorseful jellies, ready to rip the rosak signs off their meters.

Second offenders in both categories of inmate would be conscripted into driving hearses, where discussions on life cover or meter usage would be somewhat futile and one-sided.

Tourism in Malaysia is a RM50bil business, bigger than palm oil. But unlike a basic commodity, marketing tourism is difficult and there are limits to what the Government can do.

Malaysia has the infrastructure and the resources, but somehow the private sector has been slow to develop the products.

We simply need more products. Beach land is still inexpensive as you will see from the table, and unlike say, Thailand and Vietnam, much of it can easily be bought by locals and foreigners alike.

Malaysian beach land is a fabulous, under-valued and largely untapped asset.

Where else in the region can you buy land right up to the water for as little as say, RM15 to RM20 per sq ft?

Why have there not been more villa developments similar to the very successful Karambunai and Seri Tanjung Penang? Why is the development industry not more adventurous?

A little more investigation of these questions might point the way to developing a wider range of products and drawing the business in.

In Kuala Lumpur of course, there is no shortage of hotels, and never has been. KL has about 18,500 four- and five-star hotel rooms, with 2,000 more coming onstream by 2012.

This is a modest increase.

In the same period, Bangkok is looking at an increase of 6,000 rooms to bring the total to 31,000, and Singapore a whopping 10,000 more rooms.

But in the hospitality business, supply is normally not a problem for the country. Unlike office buildings or condos, new hotel rooms generate extra tourist business, because their owners and managers market them, intensively, around the world.

This brings me back to my point that if we had more entrepreneurs developing a wider range of tourist products, the industry would grow faster. And it is not just the stereotype contemporary hotels that we need more of.

Those are for business travellers. For real tourists, we need to develop the quaint and the quirky, the character properties that you choose on the Net simply because they just might offer a slightly different experience.

Such properties are the product of people who are passionate about what they do, the individual owners and managers. When will they come to the fore?

Again, Malaysia is richly endowed with heritage buildings that would adapt superbly to character hotels, hostels and restaurants.

Take a look around Taiping, for example, now the self-styled “Heritage Town”. Or the lovely Kuala Kangsar, with its mosques, palaces and the lazy Perak River. Almost any of the superb examples of pre-war shophouses to be found there can be bought for well under RM1mil.

Allowing for the cost of conversion to a hotel, you have a viable and attractive business for much less than RM2mil.

Maybe banks should join forces with academia and offer intensive three-month basic hotel management courses coupled with specially packaged loans for this type of entrepreneur.

Let’s add a few expatriates into the pot.

The very recent amendments to the “Malaysia My Second Home” scheme allows retirees under the scheme with “specialised skills and expertise that are required in critical sectors of the economy” to work here.

Why not stretch that a little further and encourage such retirees to purchase heritage buildings and run them as boutique hotels?

Before long, we might have a whole new generation of Basil Fawlty types restoring shophouses in Teluk Intan, turning Lumut into a spa resort, and fighting with their Hakka chefs. Irresistible.

There is no doubt that each one of these foreign retirees would work very hard to market their properties to their compatriates overseas.

The result would be a much more interesting tourism proposition and a substantial increase in arrivals.

News of interesting hotels spreads by word of mouth and by the Internet. Why else would half of Milan descend upon Pulau Redang for the same two weeks every August?

Tourism is a team effort, and Malaysia could use a bigger team.

Chris Boyd is executive chairman of Regroup Associates Sdn Bhd property consultants. We welcome your feedback on this article. Please write to starbiz@thestar.com.my

 

Source: http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/4/23/business/3731242&sec=business



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