Wednesday February 13, 2013
Need for heritage village
I SUPPORT the views of Zari Malaysiana in “Our souvenirs need to be better promoted” (The Star, Feb 5).
Forty years ago, the most popular sightseeing tour snaked past Jalan Ampang (embassy row), Ulu Klang (rubber trees and factories), Setapak (Selangor Pewter), Batu Caves (Dark Cave was lighted and opened), Selayang (batik factory) and Lake Gardens (National Monument).
I was then a tourist guide and received my certificate from Tun Musa Hitam who was the Trade and Commerce Minister, the ministry overseeing the Tourism Department.
During that time, Selangor Pewter operated a modest shop on the ground floor of a shop-apartment at Jalan Gombak before it moved to a more respectable wooden building on stilts at Jalan Setapak.
Today, millions of visitors have visited their present factory incorporating a museum, demonstration area and display centre that showcase the widest range of fine pewter products.
For over half a century, Selangor Pewter has maintained its position as the premium Malaysian souvenir and the prestigious brand was bestowed the royal status.
However, we have yet to see the same level of passion, pride and professionalism in the development and promotion of other souvenirs and handicrafts.
Take batik for example. Forty years ago the batik factory at Selayang looked like a quaint village with striking Malay huts and was an enchanting sight.
Tourists were able to see bales of white cloth block printed and dyed, and art pieces hand painted. There were demonstrations on how intricate silverware was painstakingly crafted.
The quality of tour groups, tour leaders, tour guides and sightseeing tours of that era remained unsurpassed to this day.
The past four decades have seen a huge increase in visitor arrivals but no corresponding rise in the quality of tourism services.
There is no doubt that tourists are satisfied with all the comforts and conveniences they are getting but we can do more to enhance the quality of the experience.
An effective approach is to set up a “Malaysia Village” in or near Kuala Lumpur to showcase our rich heritage, culture, tradition, handicraft and food.
Proclaiming that we are a multi-racial nation is meaningless to visitors that cannot distinguish foreigners from the locals in the people they see or meet.
Many Malaysians are at most only aware of the three main races and the well-known indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak. Our population is much more diverse and richer for it.
Showcasing of cultural dances should not be confined to performances by our national troupe. We have enough variety to present different dances every day for several years running.
Experiential tourism is the in-thing and visitors may want to learn a local dance, tie a sarong, cook a local dish or play bride and groom in a bersanding ceremony, and not just mere spectators.
We need to be more professional by striving for excellence.
Among other activities, the Malaysia Village can also be an arena for exchange of ideas and information as visitors are equally keen to share, as much as we want to showcase what we have.
It would be the ideal platform to promote our souvenirs by allowing visitors to witness the production and not just demonstration in the making of handicrafts.
The efforts and skills needed to make them would then be better appreciated and visitors should be given the opportunity to try making their own souvenirs.
The initiative to set up this Malaysia Village has to be Government-led but must be commercially run for creativity and sustainability.
It would be an ideal setting to encapsulate and showcase our rich Malaysian heritage that has evolved through centuries of assimilation from people that have once lived or visited our land.