THE country's tourism map will be redefined to link tourism products in different states, says minister
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
"We can consider promoting the country's rich historical trails that traverse various states. For instance, the rich history of Malacca is linked to Johor, where the Sultan of Malacca sought refuge following the Portuguese invasion."
The minister says a detailed exploration and marking of this trail could be done by both state governments to produce an interesting tourism product benefiting both states.
"In portraying Malaysia as 'Truly Asia', we need to promote the history of interaction between the Chinese, Indian, Arabian and European travellers and conquerors. This can be a major attraction among tourists from those countries."
The ministry is planning to introduce more tourist destinations across the country.
Players in the tourism and hospitality industries have also been urged to sell Malaysia aggressively.
"We can't just focus on destinations with five-star hotels and resorts. It should encompass all places and products."
Mindful that some places might not have adequate facilities, such as accommodation, she felt the problem could be addressed with the homestay programme.
The programme, popular with foreign tourists, started out with the placement of foreign students at homes of villagers under the local universities' social interaction and community service.
"The country's homestay programme, overseen by the Malaysian Homestay Association, started in 1999 in Temerloh, Pahang. It now has 2,746 participants in 426 villages nationwide.
"Homestay will give foreign tourists the true feel of local culture, the people's hospitality and Malaysian way of life."
Azalina says generating return tourists should be made a priority as huge funds were being spent to attract them to visit Malaysia.
She urges homestay operators to consider franchising to help realise the objective of having at least one homestay village in the country's 116 districts.
Another major concern for the newly appointed tourism minister is working closely with state governments to upkeep tourist attractions and protect the environment.
Malaysia can get more tourist dollars simply by going "green" — eco-tourism.
"We have rainforests, mangrove forests, beautiful rivers, mountains and national parks and we should promote these in a big way internationally.
"However, at the same time, we have to protect this natural heritage," says Azalina.
"Malaysia is truly Asia because of its multi-racial and multi-cultural makeup. But look around, other countries in this region like Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are similar to us in many ways.
"In fact, many countries now have many different races and religions under one roof. Therefore, we should to start looking at other attractions like our flora and fauna."
Cleanliness, stresses Azalina, is also vital as tourists would not want to come back if facilities like toilets and drains were dirty and poorly maintained.
Azalina is also keen to promote local delicacies internationally.
If she had her way, luxury chocolates, pralines and imported snacks, which are served in hotel rooms and resorts, should be replaced by kerepek, chips, nuts and even dodol.
"What we need is more eye-catching packaging to make them more attractive and saleable. Our hotels and resorts should start offering local snacks in their gift baskets or in the rooms.
"I really get irritated when I step into a hotel room and ! nd chocolates and imported fruits. What is wrong with having a local snack?
"We can sell Malaysia through our cuisine, like what Malaysia Kitchen is currently doing overseas. My ministry will soon be working with the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry to promote more Malaysian-made snacks locally and abroad."