At the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998, the government introduced the “Buy Malaysian Products” (BMP) campaign to boost the local economy and small-time traders in bracing the economic downturn.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister at that time, had said that consuming local products was not a sign of economic nationalism.
BMP, he said, was necessary as imported goods became costly as a result of weak ringgit. More importantly, it is also to show that Malaysian products are not inferior to imported ones.
Dr Mahathir further added that the success of any economic initiative would depend on the participation of Malaysians. For BMP, it was proven to be rather effective, prompting politicians from Barisan Nasional and the Opposition to continue with the campaign.
BMP was re-branded in 2009 and the latest in 2019 for the same purpose it was introduced on Jan 1, 1998.
Twenty-two years later, Malaysia found itself in an almost similar predicament. The government launched the Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020) campaign, effective Jan 1 this year. VM2020 aimed to attract 30 million tourists and generate up to RM100 billion in tourist receipts. VM2020 would be the fifth edition of Visit Malaysia year since it was launched in 1990.
Although Malaysia is not in a deep financial crisis presently, it is confronting a different form of economic fallout: Coronavirus.
For a start, the RM100 billion target set out by the government is not an impossible one. This is taking into consideration that in the first half of 2019, Malaysia’s tourism sector recorded RM41.69 billion in revenue.
The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, together with its agencies had been focusing on the international market, participating in various promotional campaigns and events to attract foreign tourists.
Everything was on the right track until the coronavirus broke out in China late last year. Chinese tourists are the third-largest contributor to tourism revenue after Singapore and Indonesia. Needless to say that flight cancellations and travel bans imposed on certain parts of China to Malaysia will hamper the tourism growth and the target set for this year.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents has confirmed that more than 95,000 hotel bookings have been cancelled, largely by Chinese tourists resulting in almost RM40 million in losses.
The association announced a special “Cuti-Cuti Malaysia” programme to encourage the domestic market to travel locally this year. If we want to look at the bright side of things — we could take this as a “temporary delay” that allows us to improve our public amenities better. Besides, we are only on Day 42 of 2020, we still have the time to come up with other strategies to attract inbound travellers.
As hoteliers have been slashing their prices and pledges to enhance its services to cater to travellers, perhaps now is the right time, more than ever, for Malaysians to participate in the VM2020 campaign.
When it comes to tourist attractions in Malaysia, rest assured that we are certainly not inferior to those abroad.
We can play tourists to all the “touristy” spots we would otherwise avoid (mostly due to congestion and the hassles), at much cheaper prices. It does not have to be something extravagant, a visit to Kuala Selangor (for fireflies!) and “glamping” in Gopeng, Perak, would suffice to enjoy wonders of nature.
If we have been too reliant on international tourists before, now is the time for us to make the VM2020 campaign a success. Our contribution will not only help the local tourism sector, it will help invigorate our economic activities.
At the end of the day, all of us will stand to benefit from this campaign in one way or another. That is the beauty of Malaysia we rarely remember.