Gaya Travel Magazine sits with the ever dashing YBhg. Datuk Rashidi bin Hasbullah, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC) Malaysia, as he shares his memorable moments at work, challenges Malaysia is currently facing in terms of tourism and how the country is preparing for Visit Malaysia 2020.
Datuk Rashidi is certainly not an unfamiliar face in the tourism industry, having frequented various meetings, conferences and programmes over the years to help position Malaysia as a leading tourism destination. His career in MOTAC began as Assistant Secretary after completing his Diploma in Public Management Programme from the National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) in 1996. When asked why he chooses tourism, he says it was not planned and rather fortuitous. “But I believe in the simple concept that one should love what he or she does and delivers (the job).”
Holding on to that philosophy, he expanded his knowledge by pursuing Master’s degree in Tourism at the Central Michigan University, United States of America in 2004 to enhance his knowledge about the industry, and then enrolled in the Oxford Advanced Leadership Course at Oxford University, United Kingdom in 2012 to further enhance his credibility, which eventually led him to holding the position as the ministry’s current Secretary-General. Besides his official duty as a government servant, Datuk Rashidi is also a current board member of Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau, Sri Malaysia Hotel Chain, Putrajaya International Convention Centre, Marina Putrajaya Pte. Ltd. and Penang Hill Corporation.
Datuk Rashidi states that the tourism landscape in Malaysia today has changed tremendously compared to 20 years ago. “Back then, the numbers of tourist arrivals were small. But now, we receive more. In fact, Malaysia’s second-tier cities like Ipoh and Alor Setar are starting to also draw attention now. There is also a growing number of big chain hotels opening in Malaysia and investments from international corporations, as well as improved infrastructure – these positive changes show how progressive our tourism industry is.”
When Gaya Travel team enquires about his personal proudest achievements while working in the Ministry, Datuk Rashidi considers his brainchild – the homestay programme – brings the best memory. Malaysia Homestay Experience Programme garnered the UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance, which later became the benchmark homestay standards for ASEAN countries. Moreover, the government has developed the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme that allows other countries to come to Malaysia and learn about the homestay programme. Currently, Malaysia has 311 villages participating in this homestay programme.
Datuk Rashidi emphasises on the importance of working in a team. “It is impossible to work alone in any ministry. You need to work with your team to ensure that every programme or project becomes successful. When I was the Deputy Secretary-General, I worked with my team together with consultants, stakeholders and industry players to introduce beneficial policies for the country such as the National Eco Tourism Plan 2016-2025, the Malaysian Transformation Plan and the National Culture Policy. We also came up with Malaysia Tourism Quality Assurance (MTQA) in 2013 to make sure that the tourism products in Malaysia reach maximum standards. The main goal here is to work together and make tourism as the main driver of economic growth in Malaysia,” he elaborates.
However, 2017 saw a 3% decline in terms of tourist arrivals into Malaysia compared to the year before. Datuk Rashidi believes that the profile of Malaysia as a tourist destination is affected by various factors including the shortage of direct routes, strong competition from neighbouring countries and the higher cost of publicity overseas due to the weakening Ringgit.
MOTAC responded to the said challenges by easing visa rules; engaging in smart partnerships with airlines; working with the private sector and Malaysian agencies under the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) to efficiently execute initiatives in cost effective ways; and maximising the use of digital marketing. The ministry also has formulated the 2018-2020 Integrated Promotion Plan to further tackle those challenges.
Besides, the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign is also believed to help boost Malaysia’s tourism industry. Malaysia has organised a total of four editions of Visit Malaysia Year in the past (1990, 1994, 2007 and 2014), each recorded impressive number of tourist arrivals and receipts. The highest achievement ever recorded was in 2014 when Malaysia received 27.7 million tourist arrivals with a total receipt of RM72 billion.
Visit Malaysia 2020 – with the theme ‘Travel, Enjoy and Respect’ and formulated as part of Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan – is targeted to bring in 36 million tourist arrivals with RM168 billion tourist receipts in 2020. During that landmark year, Malaysia will hold a series of international large-scale and high-level events such as Asia Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC), World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Datuk Rashidi adds that Malaysia intends to take full advantage as a country partner for the Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) Berlin in 2019 to enhance Malaysia’s visibility on the international front. He also encourages the Malaysian tourism industry players to utilise the incentives provided by the government such as the MYR2 billion tourism loan disseminated through SME Bank and another MYR2 billion with Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Berhad.
In terms of promotions, the ministry is not putting all eggs in one basket. China and India are just two of the geographical markets that the ministry is focussing on due to the size of their respective populations. However, the ministry assures that it also continues to target other countries, for instance Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines for the short haul market; Japan, Korea and Taiwan for the medium haul market; and the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran for the long-haul market. The ministry also reaches into niche segments by presenting Malaysia as the ideal destination for film-making, medical treatment, education and lung-washing, including weddings and honeymoon.
“In our effort to make Malaysia as a leading tourism nation, let’s not forget about two important elements: sustainability and inclusiveness,” reminds Datuk Rashidi. All parties involved in the tourism industry need to practice responsible actions – whether environmentally, economically and socio-culturally – to ensure positive future for the next generation. “We also need to make it possible for everyone regardless of race, gender, religion and mobility to conveniently experience Malaysia,” says Datuk Rashidi in concluding the session. Based on the interview, it is apparent that Datuk Rashidi’s vast knowledge, experience and acumen in tourism makes him undoubtedly the perfect person to helm the ministry.
Watch our interview with Datuk Rashidi here: