Puncak Borneo MP Willie Mongin raised a serious concern when he said there is no point in wanting more tourists to come to Malaysia when the country is not able to provide a conducive environment for travellers.
Mongin said if we continue to impose Malaysia’ s religious guidelines to dictate the things that tourists can or cannot do, then we risk becoming an unattractive tourist destination.
He cited the disquiet over the wearing of bikinis and drinking alcoholic beverages by the poolside as an example.
“We cannot compete with other countries when our tourism environment is not conducive,” Mongin said in the House of Representatives.
Fortunately, wisdom prevailed. In his reply, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing agreed with Mongin’s concerns, adding he would consult other Muslim MPs about the issue.
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The moment is right for such decisions, especially under a moderate, well-grounded administration led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, instead of a theocratic political party.
Already we have witnessed some uneasiness over the dress codes imposed by various government premises. Given this trend, Mongin’s concerns will now require a prudent and discerning approach.
Whilst we can take pride in recognising Islam as the official religion of the nation with the rulers as the vanguards of Islam, we also need to find a way to take our nation to new heights of global excellence.
This transformation will be challenging, especially with extremist ideology rearing its ugly head from time to time (with or without the influence of ‘certain’ foreign preachers).
While we need to protect our respective religious beliefs, we also need the wisdom not to impose them on others, especially tourists. We need to be aware that our religious standards are not the general practice in many other places.
There is much wisdom and knowledge in what Mongin has said, that the profile of tourists is changing.
Many tourists no longer want to see heritage buildings, taste Malaysian food or be entertained by traditional dances. Instead, they want to spend their time and money on holidays that allow them to savour a wide variety of choices and the freedom to do what they want to do.
Thailand is one of the many successful examples of how a country can attract foreign tourists without losing its national and cultural identity.
We need to break free from our present narrow, myopic mindset. We need to be more mature and open-minded in our thinking.
Hopefully, the government will jumpstart the nation’s competitiveness in the tourism industry by allowing trends that other nations have already successfully adopted. We are not living in the dark ages. Tomorrow’s future will be dictated by our ability to accept new realities that are unfolding around us.
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