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Plans to boost tourism take flight Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 November 2010 15:06

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen clears the air about her overseas trips and talks about her plans to reel in more tourists. The MCA vice-president and Kelantan MCA chief also shares her thoughts on the next general election and Barisan Nasional's win in the recent Galas by-election.

Ng: ‘For me, results are what matters’


Q: YOU have always been seen as a competent Minister of Tourism but your image has come under criticism lately. There is criticism that you are a jet-setting minister, what is your comment?

A: For me, results are what matters. It does not matter whether they call me a jet-setter or anything else.

I am here to do a job. The KPI for my ministry is the number of tourist arrivals. Tourism means cash.

Last year was challenging as the whole world saw tourist arrivals declining by about 5%. I had to come up with new strategies. If the strategy demands that I reach out to the world, then I have to do that. And we looked at our targets straight away – China, India and so forth.

We have a limited budget but we still have to ensure an increase in tourist arrivals. Last year, we calculated that for every ringgit spent on promotion, we got back RM158. We spent RM14 per tourist arrival while each tourist spent about RM2,256. So I used RM14 to get back RM2,256.

Last year’s return was the highest in the Tourism Ministry. This year, tourist arrivals from January to August increased by 5.2% to 16.18 million compared to 15.38 million last year. The increase has given the country an extra RM1.9bil in revenue this year.

My target is RM55bil for this year. We have achieved RM36.5bil from January to August and I have RM14bil to go.

For the first 10 months this year, we spent over RM1mil to go to more than 14 nations, seven of which were by invitation.

I visit one city a day for work. If I wanted to jet-set for fun, I would have spent more time in each city instead of cramping everything in a day before heading to the next city. For example, when I arrive in London at 6.30am, my first meeting starts at 9.30am and it is a full (working) day.

I hold meetings with decision makers, including tourism ministry officials. In South Korea, I even met the president of Hana Bank, the country’s fourth largest bank, as I wanted his clients to join the Malaysia My Second Home programme. I have also met royal princes from the Middle East to encourage them to come here during Ramadan.

I meet tour operators and the media who still ask if we can hold hands here or buy alcohol or if they are going to get knocks on their hotel doors. I have to clear the misconceptions.

All expenses are cleared. We must apply to the Cabinet and they are audited all the way.

I know I have been receiving a lot of flak over the overseas trips but it should be read and reported in the context of the results. No one talks about the returns.

I must have met at least 10,000 key tourism players in all my visits. These include tour operators, government personnel and airlines. Everytime I come back, I see my number going up within the next few months.

> How do you respond to criticism that you should spend more time locally to develop and improve the quality of our tourism products instead?

I take responsibility for my ministry and our KPI. It does not mean that I sit here and do nothing. I do not travel every day.

The days I do not travel, I work my guts out. I have travelled to many states. My diary is packed with back-to-back meetings.

My tourism KPI for 2020 is 36 million tourists and RM168bil in revenue. That is a lot of money. That means three times in increased receipt and one-and-a-half times increase in tourist arrivals. That is RM3bil a week. My tourist arrivals last year brought us RM1bil a week.

Tourism is still the second highest foreign earner for us. Last year, we were ranked within the top 10 in the world.

> How has the Chinese market evolved? Are we still at the tail-end of their tour? Previously they used to fly first to Thailand, then to Singapore before taking a bus to Malaysia, putting us at a disadvantage.

That was 10 years ago when we received just about 100,000 to 200,000 tourists from China. Now, more are flying directly here partly because there are so many flights to various parts of China. Last year, a million Chinese tourists visited Malaysia.

The whole Chinese tourist pattern has changed. They are now the fourth biggest spenders in the world. They have also become more sophisticated and do not want to rush around.

There are now three types of tourists from China – from emerging new and inner cities; family tourism and those from more mature cities like Shanghai and Beijing who come here for leisure, shopping and golf.

High-end shopping is an indication of their success. This group is becoming bigger and bigger for us.

The average Chinese tourist who comes to Malaysia spends about RM2,500, which is quite substantial. China is my biggest market for tourism. Almost 100 million would travel overseas by 2020. We have to tap into this.

We have made several trips to China. The first was to meet the Tourism Minister a few months after I took office. I am very happy that they recognise me in China as a passionate Tourism Minister. Even at this year’s World Tourism Organisation celebration day in China, I was invited to join the panel on tourism organised by CNN China.

> Younger Chinese tourists prefer eco-tourism and Sabah and Sarawak. Is this true?

Yes. Eco-tourism is equated with sophistication – a developed world mentality. There are direct flights from China to Sabah but they still like shopping.

We have also developed the Sophisticated Office Ladies (SOL) package for ladies to come here for leisure, spa and shopping and the Golden Third Age package to cater for retired senior citizens. My highest Malaysia My Second Home applicants are Chinese.

> How did the Malaysian Pavilion fare at the Shanghai World Expo

It was a major attraction. We received 10% or seven million of the total visitors to the Shanghai Expo.

We spent RM20mil to build the Pavilion and another RM15mil for maintenance as it went on for six months and we had to send our cultural groups and people there. We are the only ones from the Asian group that received five requests from Chinese local governments to take over our Pavilion once the expo ended.

> Why were there criticisms that the roof was leaking?

The roof never leaked. The rooftop had four windows which are normally closed.

But on that day, one of the maintenance men forgot to close the windows and the rain came in.

The Pavilion never closed for a single day, not even for repairs during the six months.

> Why were there errors in the brochures?

We initially printed a few thousand brochures in Malaysia. But we decided to later print them in China as the number of tourists was too many and we could not cope.

The original brochure was in perfect English. The mistakes occurred because the brochure had to be retyped in Shanghai. It was all typing errors. It was also the carelessness of our tourism director there not to check the brochure after it was printed in China.

We received a letter of apology from the printers and we are looking at whether to take action.

> When you hold promotions in China, does it help that your mother was born there?

Very much so. When I go there, I always tell them I am Malaysian Chinese. I talk about my mother, especially in Beijing . . . there is closeness and a lot of rapport. They tell me I am the most famous Tourism Minister in China.

> What about your UK, Milan and Munich trip?

I am on the go as soon as I touch down. We had 150,000 visitors at our Chelsea flower show in London. The BBC covered us for many days, so much so that the taxi drivers knew all about it.

Our Milan Parks and Garden show was also very popular as it was a big tourism product.

> And Australia and New Zealand? Why was there a need for you to go to Milford Sound? What was that about?

I met with 1,116 tour agents, tour operators and front liners; 540 corporate players and 195 members of the media (in both countries).

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s top tourism products. It has a population of less than 100,000 but they receive more than one million top-end tourists through their eco-tourism efforts. It is famous for its helicopter tourism which we want to introduce here.

Our previous efforts to do so failed and we went there to specifically study their success story. I am happy to say helicopter services will start again in Langkawi.

We are also studying New Zealand’s rating system (Qualmark) for tourism products and looking at applying it here to ensure ours are of international standards.

I chose Christchurch for its gardens. New Zealanders are big on garden tours. We must be with the world. We must look at how other people see our products.

> Tell us about the group of botanists who came here recently from Australia and New Zealand.

I spoke to people who organised garden tours in Australia and New Zea­land and invited them here. I showed them our gardens including in Sabah and asked them which they would promote as a tourism product.

> Are we missing out on high-end products?

They are there but we need to have more. We must think tourism and act tourism. I have launched the 1Malaysia Green and 1Malaysia Clean campaigns. But everyone must take up the call to keep Malaysia clean and green and not rely on the Government alone.

We have to have more new, creative products – we need good entertainment zones and events; and more healthy night activities.

Our products can be packaged in many varieties. For example, we can have a kampung food or ginger flower trail and parks and garden tours.

We also need our banks to be more open-minded and supportive of tourism products. Sometimes, they are very conservative as tourism products cannot be valued like properties.

The private sector’s role is important. We need good services from the taxi drivers right down to our tour guides.

Tourism products must be of quality. There must be proper maintenance as we are competing with the rest of the world.

> There seems to be a dispute over the tourism figures for Penang and Malacca?

> There are several statistics. Our hotel stays and foreign tourist arrivals are reported to the World Tourism Organisation.

Local states provide us with the detailed statistics, including figures of those who stay in lodging houses and apartments, which we do not keep at the federal level.

Malacca had 8.9 million tourists last year, 7.29 million of whom were domestic tourists.

They gave us very detailed numbers including those on health and student tourism, which stood at 60,000 and 100,000 respectively.

Penang tourist arrivals were recorded at 5.96 million as they only gave us the number of hotel guests. They did not give us a detailed breakdown like Malacca.

As a Tourism Minister, I listen to every state. I want every state to excel. This also helps us meet our KPI target for the nation.


> Umno used the door-to-door/chit chat approach in the Galas by-election. What was MCA’s formula to win back support?

It was multi-factorial.

Firstly, we agreed to move away from big ceramah. We cannot convince or counter what voters have on their minds while on stage. Rhetoric does not work anymore. Voters today are not the same as those 10 or 15 years ago.

We also told our supporters not to come with us during our house-to-house visits. We went quietly in small groups, sat down and had chats, sometimes up to an hour. We had eyeball to eyeball discussions. We listened to the people, corrected wrong preconceived ideas and helped solve their problems.

Another positive step is that MCA is regarded very highly now. Firstly, when we speak to them, there is no negative word on MCA. In the past, we had such a bad one-and-a-half years. This time, it is very good.

Secondly, they are very supportive of the president (MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek)’s very strong stand on Chinese-related and economy issues. They want to give MCA stronger energy to speak up. MCA’s grassroots are also very strong in Gua Musang.

Also, the respect for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is definitely there. There is not a bad word about Najib at all; they know he is trying very hard.

> There is always this perception that the younger people will vote for the opposition. How did MCA manage to get these young votes?

> MCA Youth is very close to them and knew everyone well even prior to campaigning.

The youths are looking for tomorrow. The older people are looking at their land and livelihood. Initially, they were completely misled that PAS can give them land. We told them to give us a chance.

For the young people, it is hope for the success of 1Malaysia. It is trust that MCA will continue to speak up.

> It has been said that Galas would serve as a momentum and a morale booster. A low-key approach works in small towns but it will be a different ball game altogether at the national level in the next general election.

So how does MCA plan to tackle this large group of Chinese voters?

> Yes, it is very area and city specific. The Galas by-election has set MCA’s morale high, given confidence to MCA members and stimulated the momentum at the grassroots level.

Chinese voters care that MCA has a strong vocal voice. It is better that we stand up tall and fight the good battle than lie down and be stomped upon. We will continue to strive regardless of the city.

We also have to engage the urban young more intimately which we did not have time to do the last time as we spent too much energy on internal conflicts.

> Would MCA prefer a general election this year or next year given the recent by-election wins in Batu Sapi and Galas?

> I prefer for us to be very cautious. We cannot take these two by-elections as a benchmark for a national political scenario.

It is a good start but we must be very cautious and ensure we know each constituency very well.

I do not think we should go in so fast yet, especially now when the opposition is in disarray. Let the people see how disorganised they are.

We should wait for a while and strengthen ourselves while looking at how the opposition is going to continue, which to me, is the beginning of a decline.


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