LAST week, I received a call from an old friend in England. He’s thinking of going for a faraway vacation with his family and there are a few countries on his list of potential destinations. Therefore, no flights and hotel rooms have been booked yet. This friend keeps himself up-to-date on the news around the world – more so now that he’s planning to go on a vacation – and upon learning that I had been appointed as the Chairman of Tourism Malaysia, he made that call to me while considering adding ‘Malaysia’ into his list.


After all the pleasantries, he asked me this: “Is it safe for us to be in Malaysia?”


I was stumped. My brows furrowed. Despite my decades in the legal profession, where arguing and quick retorts are a big part of business, it took me a couple of seconds – and that’s a long time! – before I managed to muster a dignified reply to him on behalf of this beloved country.


Now, to the average Malaysian the first reaction would be something like: “Of cooouurse! No problem at all lahh! Don’t worry…. come come! I can show you around…” while feeling good at doing a service to the country and immediately thinking of places of interest that family of tourists can be taken to… or at least suggest them to go themselves.


Me, I gave him a similar answer as a friend and in my capacity as an official of Malaysia’s tourism authority while at the same time feeling very concerned at the reasons for his asking such a question to me. He didn’t have to explain it to me… I know why – it’s all those very unpleasant things, to put it mildly, that we have been publicising to the world about ourselves. I don’t have to mention it in detail; you know what they are since you can read about them in the media every other day.


Now, I’m not wishing that we remain taciturn about the not-so-nice things that happen in our country and only publish the ‘nice’ stories all the time, everywhere. That would make us no better than, say, North Korea! We’d be kidding ourselves! But we can certainly strike a good balance of them, can’t we?


You see, if you tell a friend that you had caught a big, venomous snake yourself inside your house and no one was injured in the incident, your friend would express his relief and congratulate you for your heroic act. You could invite him over for tea and show to him in which room you had discovered the slithery thing and how you heroically captured it, and he’d gladly take up the offer… no questions asked.


But if you contact your friend every week to tell him about a different snake being captured in your house each time, he’d definitely not want to drop by your house, ever! While you sit at home and pride yourself in being a good snakecatcher, you might never find out why that friend never drops by your house, despite your repeated invitations.


That’s what I observe has been happening to Malaysia. We may thump our chests for arresting suspected hardcore criminals, terrorists, pirates and religious extremists, and even successful convictions and sentencing of them – and congratulate ourselves for those while getting a lot more praises from our neighbours and faraway countries.


But if we keep on publicising such stories, thanks in part to such crooks keep appearing in different guises, we may inadvertently and singlehandedly kill our tourism industry, which is among the country’s top income earner.


Worse, we keep on giving space in the mass media to the bigots, racists and fanatics who constantly scream and shout about silly, trivial and hurtful things. Sure, the mass media always give the “The people have the right to know” excuse to justify its actions, but don’t the people also need to know about the more positive and pleasant things that happen in this country?


Yes, compared to the latest developments on flora and fauna stewardship, multi-cultural togetherness or anything that would make tourists confident enough or attracted to Visit Malaysia, stories that have elements of guns, gore and/or gruesomely-bent fanaticism always make juicy reads.


The mass media, complemented by the many blogsites and social media pages out there love to splash such stories, almost always with detailed photos, graphic renderings and further follow-up reports, as any seasoned Editor would do.


To me, and I’m sure many of us, reading, watching and/or listening to such stories get depressing after a while, not to mention damaging our chances of getting healthy tourist arrivals and foreign investment. While we are all anti-extremists, our fixation with publishing all those horrible stories is also a form of extremist behaviour!


As if things can’t get any worse, we now have a very weak Ringgit Malaysia. But remember the ‘When Life Gives You Lemons…’ proverb? This is the time where we should be working extra hard to get as many tourists we can to come to Malaysia and spend as much as possible, as long as possible.


And one of the many ways of doing it is by portraying to the world that “Hey, we are no different than many other countries, with our problems and shortcomings… as well as successes, nice things and awesome traits. We are working hard to control the former and improve the latter. Please drop by and have a smashing time!”


Isn’t there a way where we can create a ratio-of-sorts whereby those ‘not-so-nice’ stories can be kept at a minimum and in less graphic detail while the positive, feel-good stories get more prominence and frequency? Sure, newspaper publishers and television and radio networks need to sell their newspapers, get as many viewers and listeners as possible, achieve superb ratings while keeping those advertisements coming to stay afloat and maybe make a profit once in a while.


But what about the country itself where those publishers and networks (as well as thousands of their employees) live in? Doesn’t it matter at all? If the country’s economy suffers so badly, those companies themselves will face the gory and gruesome prospects of redundancies, retrenchments and even shutdowns!


I say enough is enough. Yes, we can’t tolerate any form of extremism in this country, but we must also keep it away from the limelight while we swiftly deal with them. In the meantime, we educate our people and show to the world about the wonderful things we have to offer.


Tourism Malaysia is doing this via its newly-launched ‘Dekat Je’ campaign. Although it is to encourage Malaysians to travel domestically, it can also affect the influx of tourists into Malaysia. Still, we need the cooperation of all sectors to for that.


I hope that my friend and his family, plus millions of other non-Malaysians out there will be able to read or hear about so many pleasant things about Malaysia regularly, and decide to come for a holiday here… again and again.


  1. Pak Tam


  2. Good piece of writing.

    First thing first.

    Now, the media did not create these events. Earthquake is a natural disaster. Stripping on a mountain which attracted attention worldwide is not our creation. Just in case we are unaware of the attention we created globally – the British Press put up a headline – “her tits caused the earthquake”.

    That’s how damaging the headline was to the country.

    Financial issues are not the rakyat’s creations and not created by the media as well.

    Who created it?

    The government, the leaders and the government agencies and their leaders.

    In short, if we want to keep our country’s good name and keep the tourists” perception of Malaysia good, keep our house clean and in order.

    Our leaders must be honest. At the moment they are not honest. The perception of the rakyat of this country is the leaders are corrupt.

    And the media too.

    So Sir,

    Please, despite you being given a job by the Government, its the duty of each one of the rakyat to start making our country clean – clean of corrupt leaders.

  3. john

    You have to do something about all those nonsence “TAK PAYAH PAKAI VISA” entry into this country.. Most of the NON_VISA REQUIRED tourist is forever to stay and they are not bringing inflow money into this country.

  4. Lee

    Can’t agree more YB. It seems that our enforcement agencies cannot wait to announce their so-called “achievements” of the arrest of IS sympathisers, new guidelines for the performing artists and promoters to be fulfilled otherwise no approval for their concerts, inadequate securities and the list is inexhaustive.

    The spending of million of our good RInggit to promote Malaysia will no doubt be negated by adverse publicity generated by our enforcement agencies with the help of our printed and electronic media.

  5. Ragunathan

    Its a good one for our authorities to ponder about. It is a waste of good money to promote and these useless heads of the authority are highlighting adverse news about our country. YB please stand up to these little napoleons before we lose more billion of tourist Dollars.

    1. weechookeong

      Yes. I am in the midst reconstructing the blog. Please bear with me. Thank you for your suggestions and patience. Regards

  6. TebingTinggi

    Taylor Swift is holding 2 concerts in Singapore in November. Singapore and Shanghai are the only 2 Asian stops on her world tour schedule this year.

    How many Taylor Swift fans from Malaysia will hop over to Singapore to catch her concerts? The tickets for which, btw, have all been sold out. And not cheap either, with the most expensive tickets costing S$388! Now, what’s that in Ringgit?

    The point I am making is that Singapore has got it’s act together in promoting it’s tourism industry.

    Can we say the same about Malaysia?

    1. Anonymous

      We can’t say the same for Malaysia because our Jakim will try to impose conditions to make it almost impossible to have pop or rock concert. Mr Chairman thank you for speaking up for us. The truth hurts. We hope that the newspapers will be mindful of what they publish because anything adverse news will be picked up and blown out of proportion by our neighbours, who are our competitors. Please bear in mind this sad fact of life. I know newspapers have the tendency to sensationalise news but please take care of our national interests.

  7. Anonymous

    YB, you may also want to re-look the media outreach strategy practiced by the PR people at Tourism Malaysia. There’s no point being a jaguh kampung by engaging the likes of The Star, NST etc, when your real audiences are overseas.

    Digital is the way to forward and its time for the dinosaurs at Tourism Malaysia to realize that.

    Just take a look at what Penang are doing to promote tourism in Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong. Instead of going on “lawatan sambil belabor” to London, Paris and Dubai, you should ask these officials to lawat and belajar from the Penang Tourism commission.

  8. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Sir, I enjoyed reading your article and appreciate your passion, frustration and patriotism. But I think in essence what you are suggesting is a suppression of the truth or as you call it the not so nice stories and a focus on a sort of ‘we’re the same as you so come here’ one size fits all approach to marketing Malaysia. Well, firstly in the social economy, you cannot suppress the truth but most important of all, communications do not build successful destinations. As someone who builds destination brands for a living, but who also visited Malaysia as a tourist in 1987 before moving to live here in 1994 Malaysia’s branding problems are structural and will not be solved with communications. The main problems with Malaysia’s tourism industry are 1) Not enough investment in tourism products, 2) Limited or misplaced invstment to get Malaysians on brand, 3) Ineffective marketing due to use of outdated tactics, 4) Misunderstanding of what is required to build a country brand, 5) Weak enforcement and 6) A focus on volume not value. When starting a journey, it is important to know where you are on the map otherwise you will keep going in the wrong direction. Please feel free to read and

  9. Well said coming from you, at least you’re a figure that people will notice or even take action.

    Unlike me, who is nobody, I have been actively promoting Malaysia’s positive side for the last 6 years on my social media and travel blog but does anyone care? I doubt it.

    People prefer to read juicy stuff, conspiracies, rubbish and things that don’t matter. For example, when I write a piece of ‘Caves to Visit in Malaysia’, only the orang putih will appreciate it. Asians on the other hand couldn’t care less about caves or the feedback I get is “Got Birdsnest arr??”

    Because of today’s social media society, the mainstream media (also being Asian) tends to focus and highlight on tragedies, misfortunes, who said what and so on. When they try to write something positive or touristic, readership drops and hence forced to jump on the bandwagon to deliver what the consumers want. Well that’s what I have seen and I could be wrong on this.

    Perhaps one solution is to constantly come up with new and interesting tactics in gaining the consumers (local and abroad) interest in tourism stories? Again, when I say ‘tactics’ it’s a tricky situation to get the mainstream players to follow suit.

    I hope that your voice will be heard and things will change, especially after what we have gone through over the last decade or tourism here in Malaysia. I have been doing my part (I hope) and I will continue to do so in promoting my country to the world.

    Oh by the way, a huge congratulations on your new posting and look forward to seeing changes being implemented in our beloved tourism. It’s high time we ditched that old style mentality and look towards new approaches, especially on the digital media side.

  10. Hamid

    Constant negative news will scare tourists away from our country.. Please look at Spore very little adverse news in their newspapers or electronic media. Please learn Malaysia.

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