THE INAUGURAL GLOBAL ISLAMIC TOURISM EXHIBITION AND CONFERENCE.
YAB. DATO’ SRI MOHD NAJIB TUN ABDUL RAZAK
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF MALAYSIA
AT THE INAUGURAL GLOBAL ISLAMIC
TOURISM EXHIBITION AND CONFERENCE
PUTRAJAYA INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE
JULY 31, 2008 (10.00 A.M.)
(READ BY YB. DATO’ SRI AZALINA OTHMAN SAID,
MINISTER OF TOURISM MALAYSIA)
YBhg. Datuk Zainal Abdul Kadir, President National Tourism Council of Malaysia
YBhg. Datuk Ahmad Abdul Talib, Organising Chairman, GITC
Exco members of the NTCM
Captains of Industry
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. It gives me great pleasure to be here with leading personalities and captains of the tourism industry at this inaugural Global Islamic Tourism Exhibition and Conference (GITC). I’m well aware that the tourism industry is very competitive globally, and that new ideas supported by well-executed programmes are needed to ensure sustainability and reasonable returns on investments. I am of the opinion that competition always brings out the best in all of us. I am also of the opinion that competition is the mother of innovation, of new approaches in marketing strategies. Tourism marketing is now even more challenging as more and more players emerge demanding a slice of the business. Countries too find the task before them just as challenging, what with the many factors which can derail our plans as we push to promote our domestic attractions internationally.
2. I wish to commend the organisers of this exhibition and conference for putting together a show amidst all the challenges before us. But tourism is an industry that depends very much on many factors to succeed. And some of these factors are beyond our control, such as rising oil prices which has a direct bearing on air travel, hotel occupancy, entertainment and a host of other downside effects. But tourism players are some of the most creative people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. Their ability to survive and rise to the challenges are well known. They are known to turn adversities into opportunities! If I recall correctly, the number of tourist arrivals into the country had grown significantly after the 1997/98 financial crisis which affected many countries in Asia. Tourism promoters are hardy people, not easily rattled by challenges, and full of enthusiasm when executing their programmes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
3. I’m glad that this move to stage the GITC is an initiative undertaken by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), in this case the National Tourism Council of Malaysia. While we in the Government will continue our best to push for tourism promotion, whatever efforts undertaken by NGOs for the same objective is always welcomed and appreciated. This exhibition and conference is the inaugural one, and I like to see that this is continued in the coming years. Many a big idea has come and passed. Some have grown to become big and are now institutions. Personally, I prefer to see a small initiative, such as this GITC, which starts on a modest scale and then hopefully grow in size, stature and importance. I’ve seen some initiatives launched on a grand scale, only to end in a dismal fashion and fail to live up to its expectations.
4. The founders of the National Tourism Council of Malaysia in the formative years must be credited for their farsightedness. It was the past leaders of the NTCM that had suggested, and successfully persuaded the Government, to establish a ministry solely responsible for tourism. Which means to say that the role and responsibilities of NGOs cannot be taken lightly, as evidenced by the visionary thinking of the NTCM leadership then. I’m sure the NTCM will continue to do a good job and help us promote tourism in an aggressive and meaningful manner. NGOs such as the NTCM and other like-minded bodies and associations must move with the times. Think Big! Go beyond national boundaries! Challenge the odds! Be the best you can! Stay the course! Innovate! Think on your feet and look for solutions outside the box!
5. Which leads me to the GITC initiative. Amidst the competitive nature of the tourism industry, I believe we should be looking at new frontiers. Marketing gurus never fail to remind us to look for emerging markets. In tourism, the new frontiers need to be clearly defined. Let me give you an example what constitute a “new frontier” for us. In recent years, Malaysia has been receiving increasing number of tourists from West Asia. In the past, it was only a trickle. But this has since grown. If you take a walk along Jalan Bukit Bintang, you will see many Arabs with their families taking a stroll, or doing some shopping. Mind you, there are now almost 20 Arabic restaurants in and around the city to accommodate our foreign guests. Not to mention the variety of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Western, Korean and Vietnamese outlets as well. The attention we give to tourists from West Asia, as an example, was a “new frontier” for us in the ’90s. Of course we now have to look for other “new frontiers,” It’s an ongoing exercise.
6. At this conference, I’m told foreign and local speakers will share their ideas on what constitute “Islamic Tourism.” I believe you are looking at a niche market which is growing in volume and significance. I would like to suggest that a coordinating body or a secretariat be formed to seriously look into the strategies and marketing of this niche product. Malaysia should take the lead in this. I believe the time has come for some concrete efforts to galvanise our joint abilities to work on this initiative properly. May I suggest the promoters work with international bodies which subscribe to the same ideals and objectives. But let me also warn you. Pushing a new idea through is not easy. In fact, it is never easy. Herein then lies the challenges before all of you. Are you up to it? Are you willing to break new grounds, chart new areas and set new benchmarks? If you set mental blocks within yourself, then you will not succeed. If you allow yourself to be sidetracked by petty issues, and be weighed down by baggages of old taboos and unfounded fears, then you will fail.
7. I have come here to share some of my thoughts and perspectives on tourism, because this is an important sector of the nation’s economy. I’ve come here to encourage and support your efforts as you seek to strengthen your industry. In times of challenges such as the one we are facing, we need to adjust accordingly and take into account the global economic environment. Your initiative merits careful consideration and meticulous planning. Your initiative to push for “Islamic Tourism” is an idea whose time has come. My advice is simple and straight – get your structure in plan and come up with a sustainable plan of action. I am quite sure that the Government would want to support such an important initiative. We will see what we can do by way of assistance and support.
8. I also understand that a half-day workshop for the media was help here yesterday in collaboration with the Malaysian Press Institute. This is a step in the right direction because a well-informed media can help in a big way to profile our tourism policies and programmes. Obviously, the organisers of GITC had done a lot of homework to get this far. And bringing in the media as a partner in tourism promotion is one of the most effective ways to promote the country and its peoples.
9. I trust you will have a fruitful discussion and may your deliberations be guided by sincere thoughts and clarity of purpose. With that note, I am pleased to officially launch the inaugural Global Islamic Tourism Exhibition & Conference.