MalaysiaWiT Indie 2020 provides platform to debate controversial tourism masterplan

Tourism stakeholders fight for ‘true identity’ of Penang

By
|
Penang is being urged to focus on its culture and natural beauty.
Penang is being urged to focus on its culture and natural beauty. Photo Credit: KeongDaGreat/GettyImages

PENANG – Penang’s new Tourism Master Plan has drawn the industry into a debate over what Penang really needs to boost the island’s appeal.

In its third edition, WiT Indie 2020 will continue with its focus on how independents in travel can grow their share of the pie by getting smarter and savvier about distribution, marketing and technology, as well as address new opportunities like the big world of food and the necessary world of sustainability – two big themes that will change the face of travel 2020 and beyond.

This ongoing discourse among tourism stakeholders is likely to continue on the stage of WiT Indie which will kick off in Penang on March 13.

WiT Singapore is Asia’s leading online travel conference focused on travel technology, distribution and marketing.

“You talk about revitalising alternative tourism, and yet I see micro projects of building this or that structure when there is no proof that building more things will bring in more tourists,” said Ooi Geok Ling, co-founder of WiT Indie, to local media.

According to the report, “the new master plan calls for 104 initiatives, including physical projects and programmes”, but industry practitioners are not convinced this is what Penang needs.

Penang’s international tourism has been floundering, with foreign arrivals dipping from its high point in 2014 at 717,714 to 553,100 in 2017. Last year, it climbed back up to 669,679.

With the current COVID-19 virus crisis, numbers are likely to drop again. Some have expressed disappointment in the tourism plan not “addressing the needs of travellers or operators”, nor “optimising what Penang has to offer”.

“I do not think the plan addresses a sustainable outlook for the future, as it is based on large investments and more development rather than utilising the amazing culture and natural resources we currently have,” said Nardya Wray, owner of luxury boutique hotel, Campbell House.

Rather, Penang should be promoting its “natural” self, as Eric Chong, owner of Penang Green Acres, suggested. “Focus on our natural heritage of the hills, nature parks, mangroves, cottage industries,” he said.

Chong will contribute to a panel discussion on sustainability in tourism at WiT Indie, alongside other champions of sustainability including Andrew Dixon of Nikoi and Cempedak Islands, Bintan; Uttara Sarkar Crees of Gyalthang Eco Travel; and Irshad Mubarak, owner, JungleWalla Tours, Langkawi.

Keynote speakers such as Reza Cockrell, founder of The Habitat Penang Hill/Director, Pacific Tiger Group, will be at the event to share why he thinks creating The Habitat was necessary to Penang and nature conservation and how he intends to make it sustainable financially.

“Most of the stakeholders and industry players actually want the same thing, a sustainable future and a true identity of Penang, I think before this plan is implemented, real data, and real discussions with people working in the industry and of course real visitor feedback should take place,” added Ms Wray.

Stakeholders have been given a two-week period to give feedback before the masterplan is finalised.

In its third edition, WiT Indie 2020 will continue with its focus on how independents in travel can grow their share of the pie by getting smarter and savvier about distribution, marketing and technology, as well as address new opportunities like the big world of food and the necessary world of sustainability – two big themes that will change the face of travel 2020 and beyond.

To take part in these conversations, register for WiT Indie. The full programme can be found here.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI