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COMMENT While holidaying in Hanoi, I realise that even Tourism Malaysia and tour agencies may have to redefine tourism in Malaysia.

If we do not tailor our tourism packages as a country to meet the expectations of the tourists, we may soon lose out to a number of emerging markets in this part of the world. They would rather visit Vietnam or Thailand, instead of Malaysia.

Government agencies such as Tourism Malaysia should conduct surveys to find out what exactly it is that foreigners are looking forward to when they visit Malaysia.

Need for more smart strategies

In the past, we have emphasised on shopping as one of the tourist attractions in Malaysia, but my question is, was the Mega Sales Carnival a big success in drawing tourists to the country?

Or would other factors such as scouting for a good private higher education in Malaysia be a greater draw for families to visit Malaysia? If it is, why are we not promoting the education fairs to countries in the region?

Why is Tourism Malaysia or even Tourism Selangor not putting their money into promoting these education fairs through the network of university representatives in these countries? For example, by inviting the media from these countries to visit the major education fairs in the country?

Back in 2000, I wrote a proposal for both the Education Ministry and Tourism Ministry. It caught the attention of the then-tourism minister, Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, and Tourism Malaysia director-general Abdullah Junid, that they called me in for a discussion, but it was the Education Ministry under Musa Mohamad that was dragging its feet over the initiative that I proposed. The idea just died a premature death.

My contention was that if families were flocking to Malaysia to check out on the colleges and universities, throwing in the Mega Sales Carnival coupled with some theme parks would therefore add to the excitement. We may see an entire family travelling together with the young person who is planning to study in Malaysia, while the mothers can enjoy a shopping spree.

Tourism Malaysia should produce advertorials that suggest holiday ideas to these target groups in different countries rather than buying advertisements worth millions of dollars showcasing only the Iban dance or the Mega Shopping Carnival.

In my opinion, a carnival sales alone would not be sufficient to draw people to the country. After all, tell me how many of our international brands are not already available in Indonesia or in Vietnam?

Culture and history?

I have also seen that we have emphasised a lot on showcasing the cultural highlights of different ethnic groups in the country. Tour packages have always included performances by different ethnic groups, and with that, we hope to showcase to the world that we are a multi-ethnic country.

But truly, how many of the foreign tourists are impressed with our multi-ethnicity? Australia for example has over 200 nationalities in one country. Vietnam alone has 54 ethnic groups, mostly of whom are minority groups.

Do tourists want to travel several thousand kilometres just to watch how an Iban does his traditional dances? I doubt so. In New Zealand, for example, the Maoris too have their own traditional dances, so why bother to come to Malaysia to see an Iban dancing?

And, not every foreign tourist is interested to learn about the history of our country, especially if they can read about it in books. While there is a market segment for such tourist attractions, we should not assume that every foreigner visiting Malaysia would be keen to visit Malacca and appreciate its history.

On Day 1 of my trip to Hanoi, we were taken to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chin Minh. Part of the day was wasted when we were brought to the official residences of the late president.

To most of of us, a table was just a table, so what difference does it make that Ho had used the table in his presidential office? We also spent about an hour to visit a former concentration camp.

In Beijing, on a separate trip two years ago, we were also taken to similar places - Tiananmen Square, supposedly in honour of a dead communist leader. This was really not what we wanted to see, but it occupied one full day of the entire tour package.

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