Why Langkawi must remain open to all visitors

(TMI) – The proposal to make Langkawi a Muslim tourist destination has received flak from people, particularly those in the tourism industry.

Such a reaction erupted following the response of Deputy Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan to Seputeh MP Teresa Kok’s query in parliament about the restrictions on tourists drinking alcohol and wearing revealing clothes.

He said the focus will be on families and “spirituality” in Malaysia, where, if we may add, corruption is rife and almost a way of life.

It is no surprise then that the industry and business people on the Kedah island are deeply concerned that the shift in focus would adversely impact them, as this will downplay the efforts to attract non-Muslim tourists as well as gain more revenue.

This move is also a shift away from the tagline “Malaysia Truly Asia”, which encapsulates the cultural diversity that is Malaysia.

Our cultural diversity has always been a selling point to tourists as well as a source of national pride.

Niche tourism, which is a specialised segment of the tourism industry, is obviously the antithesis of mass tourism as well as of the image of a Malaysia that is purportedly inclusive.

The deputy minister argued that there were already a few states that have taken this narrow approach. So, Langkawi would be copying and competing with these states for similar groups of tourists.

The question is, why would Langkawi need to go down this path when it has a lot more to offer to the tourists coming from various parts of the world and of diverse backgrounds?

People visit tourist destinations not solely to enjoy the wine and the sun-kissed beaches. There are other things for them to explore and do.

Tourists generally are attracted to cultural heritage, events and festivals, natural beauty, food, shopping, good infrastructure and general safety, among others. Langkawi should harness its potential with these factors in mind.

That is why Bali, for instance, does not brand itself as a spiritual enclave for Hindus. It has what it takes to attract tourists from various continents and faiths.

It caters to the needs of many visitors. For example, halal food is available. Why, they even have a surau (prayer room for Muslims) next to a building where Hindu-based cultural performances are held and enjoyed by diverse people.