If I were the tourism minister

By Lee San

I am thankful to the country and the local tourism industry for their 100% trust in my professionalism. As a civil servant, I pledge to do my utmost and work hand in hand with my cabinet colleagues to run this beautiful country.

1. I will be a CEO that takes accountability seriously. I vow to listen attentively to the views offered by my subordinates and truthfully report to my superiors without fear or favor. I will do nothing that will embarrass our prime minister.

2. I have to be very clear of the duties loaded onto my shoulders as well as my KPIs, my team, my products, my market, mission and direction. I am here to implement the country's economic policies and to market our prideworthy "products" to the global market. "Visit Malaysia 2020" will only be a platform, and my duty as tourism minister is to ensure sustained development of the country's tourism industry.

3. I will immediately revoke the government's direct jurisdiction over the tourism promotion board, and will adopt the outsourced operation model of Taiwan's TVA, Japan's JNTO, South Korea's KTO as well as the tourism promotion boards of Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, among others. I will extend open tender opportunities to privately run professional marketing agencies based on meritocracy. Do take note that they are not civil servants and can be replaced any time they fail to perform.

4. I won't put myself high upon the pedestal. You are welcome to make an appointment to see me, but please, don't come just to curry favor and don't ever call me YB for heaven's sake. I don't want a grand reception, no red carpet, no ribbon-cutting invitations, no gifts, no tampered statistics. Remember, see me only if you have a genuine and sincere purpose. What I want is your opinions and ideas and most importantly, your open arms to receive our foreign guests with unparalleled courtesy.

5. I am sure the prime minister must have received complaints from my department staff against my predecessor. As such, it is utterly important for me to hold regular dialgoues with my own team and even civil servants from other departments in a bid to build mutual trust, as we are all serving the country and her people. A very important thing is that a minister must never rake in personal profits out of his job and must refrain from employing his own friends and relatives. In no way will I run the tourism ministry as if it is my own family business.

6. To be honest, it is impossible for me to claim 100% perfection as a certain minister has bragged about because I don't look gorgeous in the first place and already ten points have been deducted from me. Moreover, I sometimes talk nonsense and another five points out. But, I will gladly and humbly accept your criticisms.

7. I have set a goal of 85 points, and please give me some time to fix myself to make up for the remaining 15. In this smokeless industry, our plans will never be able to catch up with the breakneck changes taking place around us. As if that is not enough, other department chiefs may blast me citing national security, cultural pollution, religion, blah, blah, blah, making it sometimes impossible for my ministry to carry out our plans. Rest assured that I will go yum cha with other ministers, but as for golf, I will best avoid it!

8. Visitors entering the country via KLIA, klia2 and Johor Bahru checkpoints normally have to queue up for one to two hours to clear the immigration procedures vis-à-vis the international standard of 20 minutes. As a matter of fact, the government has spent millions to promote our tourism but the effort is completely sabotaged by our frontline civil servants. As tourism minister, I need to show my face at these major checkpoints every now and then in order to boost the morale of our workers and to mitigate the grumblings of our foreign guests. Some foreigners have complained about the slow baggage conveyor belts at KLIA and klia2; little wonder our AirAsia boss has kept nagging over it.

9. There have been "rumors" about our immigration officials at JB checkpoint to extort "unwarranted levies" from tourists, but I will not turn a deaf ear on these and promise to look into such claims seriously. I will go down to the checkpoint myself and if the claims are unsubstantiated, I will return the justice to our officials but if they are found to be true, I may have to work with the home affairs and finance ministries to fix this "national disgrace".

10. Visa-on-arrival and visa exemption should not have any illogical precondition attached. Unfortunately our leaders love to impose restrictions citing national security. Don't tell me countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam all have no national security concerns.

11. I have nothing against tying our existing sightseeing attractions to the respective state governments, but do you have good facilities for tourists in the first place? What about safety, maintenance and toilets? An utmost mission of the culture and tourism ministry is to share the most wonderful and down-to-earth aspects of this marvelous country to our foreign guests. Sadly, many of our tourist attractions are in very rundown state, and our toilets are… State governments, let's work, build and promote this country together. We cannot afford to have the Sabah boat mishap repeated elsewhere in the country!

12. The new government says the treasury is short of cash, and allocations for the culture and tourism ministry get squeezed. Nevertheless, I personally feel that RM500 million is more than enough. From what I have learned, a big chunk of the allocations has traditionally gone to private pockets. I am a professional CEO with a conscience. I do not want ill destiny to befall me because of my greed.

13. The success of Disneyland parks in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai tells us one thing: a private company can thrive with tax incentives on government land, but over here in Malaysia, we don't even have a world-class cruise terminal because our government is not keen to build one nor let the private sector invest in it. As a matter of fact, the tourism minister can play a pivotal coordination role. We urgently need international class ferry terminals in Melaka, Penang and Pulau Langkawi.

14. Tourists are frequently mugged, robbed, snatched, swindled and extorted, and security issue at tourist hot spots is no longer a novelty here. Some sightseeing sites even have to dig into their own pockets to hire Rela personnel to keep things in order. There is nothing wrong with this actually, but do we have tourist police at all?

15. All Malaysians have the right to know where tourism-related taxes such as the RM10 tourism tax, heritage tax and departure tax have gone to. I will seek regular updates from the finance ministry and make the data public.

16. The Tourism Industry Act 1992 is outdated and needs to be amended. The issuance of tour guide certificates and tour bus permits has to be a little more flexible and foreign tour companies must be prohibited from operating in this country. Meanwhile, the import of foreign CBU minivans to ferry tourists should be encouraged. In short, industry efficiency needs to be significantly improved.

17. The annual tourist arrival growth rate is 6%, of which those arriving in chartered flights, convention visitors, incentive tours, cruises, a well as independent travelers are the biggest contributors. The tourism ministry should pool together the strengths from all quarters to extend the warmest "Selamat Datang" to our guests.

18. Malaysia's diverse ethnic cuisines are internationally acclaimed. A "Malaysia Food Fest" should be held annually and I am sure Hong Kong food critic Chua Lam, local food celebrity Chef Wan and Jimmy Choo will all volunteer to help, not to mention countless of Malaysians residing overseas who are more than willing to double up as our informal tourism and food ambassadors. I will make sure mouth-watering delicacies from across the country will do a brisk business in the year to come.

19. I will work with budget airlines to offer free 7kg checked in baggage allowance for all passengers to stimulate the aviation market. In the meantime, I will also encourage local businesses to hold regular promotional offers to boost consumerism.

20. Finally, while there is very faint hope I will ever get appointed as tourism minister, the country should have an effective appointment system in place. Only the most competent and capable will get the job. We don't want good-for-nothing politicians to helm our government agencies.

P/S: Anyway, if I happen to be appointed a minister, I will be very willing to listen to public views. The above should serve as a guideline and if I fail to score 85 points, I will take the responsibility and bow out in good faith. I won't outstay people's welcome.

( Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)

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