He has made known his desire to transform Langkawi into a Bali or a Monaco but before catering to high-end tourists, he should address the needs of the local population
Najib Tun Razak expressed a wish that Langkawi would become like Bali and Monaco, but he should be very careful of what he wishes for. He said: “Thousands of tourists come here to spend, generating revenue not only for companies but also the Government.”
Before Langkawi can be like Bali and Monaco, there are many things Najib must resolve.
Najib, who was accompanied by the self-styled “First Lady of Malaysia”, Rosmah Mansor to the ground-breaking ceremony for the St Regis Hotel and Langkawi International Convention Centre in Kuah said that “anchor investments” and “top-class brand names” would be the “game-changers” for Langkawi.
Claiming that the population of the island would benefit when the island becomes a world renowned, luxury nautical tourism destination, Najib said: “If we have a large number of high-end tourists spending their money here, Langkawi can really be transformed.”
Najib should start his transformation process and address the needs of the local population, before catering to the needs of the high-end tourists.
Langkawi has many attractions but there are some things which mar its image. The first is the international airport. The airport toilets are filthy, cramped and the floors are often wet.
The visitor will also notice the litter and the islanders’ attitude to cleanliness, although this is not solely a Langkawi problem, but a Malaysian problem.
High-end tourists will doubtless stay in the luxury hotels, with their neatly trimmed lawns, and beautifully landscaped grounds; but the surrounding countryside is a different story, altogether.
Tourist attractions are strewn with styrofoam containers, plastic bags and bottles. Bins are overflowing with rubbish and secluded spots on roads are convenient fly-tipping points. The monsoon drains in Kuah are blocked, especially after rain, and are smelly. Many establishments, including hotels, do not have easy access for the disabled and do the bare minimum to accommodate wheelchair users.
Operators do not warn the public that attractions are closed for repair, as in the case of the Sky Bridge. Places like the crocodile farm or the snake sanctuary, are poorly kept. Tourists are disgusted by broken glass, empty cages, shoddy repairs and animals housed in unsanitary and cramped conditions.
Will Najib keep his moral police on a leash? The attitude of officialdom to complaints, is also a big issue. An expatriate living in Langkawi confided that he is not keen to complain or offer suggestions that might help resolve the rubbish issue, because “his life may be made difficult”.
When I visited Bali, the beaches were swept clean of rubbish twice a day – once in the early morning and again, in the afternoon. Any litter carried on the incoming tide and washed-up on the beaches, is collected by a gang of workers.
Although Bali is in Muslim Indonesia, it has a large population of Hindus. The Balinese do not have hang-ups about religion, unlike some Malays.
In Bali, the tourist guides are able to speak at least five of the following languages, fluently: Bahasa Indonesia, English, Dutch, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish and Russian. Malaysians can barely speak English. Najib will have to improve the teaching of languages in our schools.
Some people may remember the American couple who were maltreated by the khalwat squad in Langkawi, in 2006. The couple had berthed in Langkawi, when their boat needed repairs and they had to wait for the parts to be flown in.
The moral police stormed into the couple’s room at 2am and demanded to see their marriage papers. The negative publicity from this invasion of privacy, spread around the world. The humiliation they suffered traumatised the wife that she returned to America the following day. The couple decided not to make Malaysia their second home. Will Najib keep his moral police on a leash?
Langkawi is nice, until things go wrong. I know of an elderly British couple who used to spend their annual holiday in one of the remote luxury resorts in the north-west of the island. When the husband fell ill with dehydration, he found that medical attention, particularly geriatric medical care was poor. They now spend their holidays in the Bahamas.
It is easy to understand why Najib and Rosmah are keen on the principality of Monaco. Prince Albert wooed them during the Islamic Fashion Show of 2010, and they must have spent countless holidays on the French Riviera with their family and influential friends.
I have seen that the streets of Monaco are clean and free of litter, unlike Langkawi. With relatively few roads, the buses provide a good and frequent service. The bloated police force and CCTVs on every corner closely monitor everyone.
In Langkawi, some of the roads are most hazardous – they are full of potholes and poorly lit. Buffaloes roam the roads at night and have caused many fatal accidents. Many people drive in vehicles that are neither insured nor taxed. The LIMA season is an especially bad time to hire a car, when any vehicle, road-worthy or not, is rented out at an exorbitant price. Motorbike riders do not use crash helmets and buses are infrequent. Will Najib improve road safety and public transport in Langkawi?
Despite Najib’s wishes, Langkawi must not become like Monaco, which is staffed by people who are rude and hate tourists. Moreover, Monaco is a high-rise ghetto where superficial but obscenely rich people live, to avoid paying taxes in their own country.
The people of Langkawi are charming and friendly. They must be wary of excessive and uncontrolled development which will take away the natural beauty of their islands, increase the price of goods and create pollution. They must not be misled by those who only value status and the colour of money. Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist