Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 was officially launched throughout the country on January 4 with much fanfare with visitors arriving into Malaysia being greeted at all entry points from Bukit Kayu Hitam to Kota Kinabalu Airport and KLIA; in Perak it was held at the Pangkor Jetty. In Ipoh itself, a small welcoming event was held at Sultan Azlan Shah Airport on January 1 when the first arrivals of the year touched down on Firefly Airlines’ first flight of the year. The New Year visitors were greeted by cultural dancers and were presented goodie bags by State Exco for Tourism YB Nolee Ashilin Mohd Radzi and outgoing Tourism Malaysia Perak Director Ahmad Kamarudin. A small start towards a very busy year but which could in all probability see the beginning of more visitors to our silver state from this year onwards.
Perak targets 5 million visitors and receipts of RM1.5 billion
Fourth VMY Promotion
At a subsequent press conference the media was informed of Perak’s plans for VMY 2014 and given a brochure highlighting the calendar of events for the whole year and a Fun Map of Perak. Perak has targeted 5 million visitors and receipts of RM1.5 billion.
VMY 2014 is the fourth Visit Malaysia Year promotion. The first was held in 1990 followed by another in 1997. The third VMY was held in 2007 and registered 20.97 million visitors contributing RM46.1 billion in receipts. The Ministry of Tourism this year has targeted to achieve 28 million visitor arrivals and receipts of RM76 billion.
Perak’s Fascinating Products
A quick stock take of the products we have in Perak is a fascinating discovery of the quality of attractions we can offer to visitors.
The Royal Belum Forest Park is a 130 million year old tropical rainforest of unspoilt natural beauty. It spans 300,000 hectares and has over 3000 species of flora and fauna and is home to the Malayan tiger and Sumatran rhino. A pristine eco adventure destination.
Lenggong Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 30, 2012. It is the home of the Perak Man, Southeast Asia's oldest most complete human skeleton dating back 10,000 BP, who was found in the Gua Gunung Runtuh cave site. A similar series of caves and open air sites along the Perak River in the Lenggong Valley provide testimony of human habitation of the area from the Palaeolithic to the Metal age period from 1.83 million years ago to 1700 years ago and represents one of the longest records of early civilization in a single locality in the world.
The Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar where the palace of the Sultan of Perak is situated with the regal Royal Mosque and other royal institutions within its neighbourhood.
Taiping Heritage Town, the first capital of Perak and one of the oldest towns in Malaysia that has managed to maintain its historical features.
Gua Tempurung or Tempurung Cave at Gopeng is the largest limestone cave in the peninsula with five high-ceiling caverns. The location of the cave is surrounded by eco-adventure activities galore from white-water rafting to abseiling.
Pangkor Island, located off the coast of Lumut, is Perak’s sandy-white beach, sun and sea paradise island.
Ipoh and the Kinta Valley is where one can appreciate the heritage of the state and feast on food found nowhere else in Malaysia.
Based on these products Perak Tourism has clustered these products into packages. According to State Exco for Tourism Nolee Ashilin, the products of Royal Belum, Lenggong Valley and Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar are a cluster and will be promoted as a 5-Day 4-Night (5D4N) package.
Similarly Ipoh and the Kinta Valley will be packaged as a 3D2N package with activities that include heritage, culture and Ipoh Food Trail from Ipoh to Tanjong Tualang.
Pangkor Island is a product by itself with facilities ranging from chalets to five and six star accommodation and activities that attract visitors regularly on weekends and school holidays.
Interestingly, Gopeng is another stand-alone product that has promoted itself as an eco-adventure destination which sees its occupancy filled by corporate visitors participating in team-building activities throughout the year.
These clusters will be promoted on billboards under the slogans of ‘Eco-Tourism, Fun and Family’ (for theme parks), ‘Sun and Sea’ (for Pangkor Island) and ‘Culture and Heritage’.
Within these main products Tourism Malaysia has created package brochures from bicycle tours, angling and an upcoming eco-adventure brochure tour for Royal Belum and Gopeng that provides visitors with various options and costs to tour the product sites.
One of the brochures ‘Discover Perak Cycling Packages’ has 12 packages from ‘Ipoh Heritage Walk and Cycle’ to ‘Gopeng and Ipoh City Tour’ which are organised by different tour agents. The brochure has contact details of the agents which will enable the visitor to select the tour of his choice.
Business Matching to Create Inbound Packages
These package options being offered by the various tour agents is what Nolee refers to as ‘business matching’, a strategy picked up from Tourism Malaysia to create inbound packages which should ultimately attract more foreign tourists to visit Perak.
Nolee explained that in previous promotions the state could not sell packages as they were not the license holders. To develop a package you need the agent, accommodation and a product. Once the packages are ready it will be promoted through fairs using Tourism Malaysia’s network of overseas tour agents to promote and sell the packages.
The State recently promoted packages to Singapore, a market which contributes 50 per cent of Malaysia’s visitors each year. Singapore visitors traditionally only made stopovers in Ipoh just for food.
Last November Nolee did a ‘business matching’ with Singapore agents to create activities for their visitors. The package consisted of the Ipoh Food Trail from Ipoh to Tanjong Tualang and sightseeing activities to Kellie's Castle, Gua Tempurung and Gaharu Tea Estate.
Interestingly, the business matching included local bus and food trail operators. The most important factor for Perak Tourism and the Singapore tie-up was to have the visitors stay in Ipoh for 3 days 2 nights. Once the packages are ready they will be promoted at the promotion fairs this year.
For 2014 there will be more trade shows and ‘business matching’ which is the plan for the state government together with Tourism Malaysia to sell Perak. Nolee explained that different markets have different preferences where the Europeans have a preference for Royal Belum and eco tourism while the Japanese and Koreans seem to favour homestay packages.
“All of these promotions are going to begin this year so we don’t expect to see any drastic visitor increases until 2015,” added Nolee.
Facilities and Services
Overall Nolee is comfortable with the facilities such as accommodation and tourist services. Her concern though is about maintenance of the products such as cleanliness of premises and toilets, a concern shared by outgoing Tourism Malaysia Director Ahmad Kamarudin.
Ahmad summarised that the importance of maintenance is to show the world that we are serious and aggressive in promoting our Perak products. “If product owners and operators do not maintain their products they will lose the most important aspect of their promotion, the repeat visitor.”
Tour guides too needed to be upgraded to be able to provide more details and stories about the product locations and indicated they plan to work with subject matter experts such as Malayan Nature Society for Royal Belum.
Regarding Ipoh being the gateway to the state, Nolee added that Ipoh City Council would have a big role to maintain the city and mentioned that the Tourist Information Centre needs to be upgraded. Additionally, the state would help to promote the Old Town area and added that Balai Seni Visual would be operating their art gallery behind the Town Hall by the middle of this year.
Overall though, Nolee is happy with the cooperation being received from the stakeholders such as theme park operators, hoteliers and tour agents.
In summary, Perak has everything going for it. The products and facilities are ready. The airport may be a setback but is temporary. Combined with the structure being set up now to create packages for inbound tourists, Perak is on its way to receiving more tourists year on year from 2014 onwards.