Let’s fly the multi-cultural flag1

Let’s fly the multi-cultural flag

What is Malaysia known for in the world?

Well, we used to be the top producer of rubber, tin and later palm oil, but not any more. Indonesia now produces more palm oil and Thailand more rubber than us while our tin deposits have depleted.

We used to have the tallest building, but many other buildings around the world are now taller although the Petronas Twin Towers remain the tallest twin towers.

We used to be the only South-East Asian country to host F1 racing, but since then Singapore has joined the sport.

We used to be the country in South-East Asia that attracted the most foreign direct investments (FDI), but Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are now preferred by investors.

So, again, what is Malaysia best known for in the world today?

Sadly, Malaysia is hitting the headlines in the world media for the wrong reasons.

We parade a high-profile sodomy trial, we highlight corruption cases everyday, we cane women for having sex out of wedlock, we dump babies by the dozen, we shoot teenagers, we raid nightspots nightly like it is the most important duty in the world and show on television scores of scantily clad foreign women being led to detention. The depressing list goes on.

Quite a message we are sending out to the world which once viewed us as a modern, liberal society marching rapidly to join the developed world.

Spoilt for choice

Recently, it was announced that Malaysia made it into the top 10 countries with the most tourist arrivals for 2009, based on figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

Malaysia secured the ninth position, just below Turkey and Germany. In 2008, Malaysia was in 11th position.

Official figures show 23.6 million tourist arrivals in the country in 2009.

Looking closer at the tourist arrival numbers, however, it is clear that most of our foreign tourists come from just four countries that share a bridge or land border with Malaysia – Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

It is safe to infer that quite a number of the visitors from these four countries are day-trippers who enter either for work, business or just to fill their vehicle fuel tanks with our cheaper petrol.

So, stripped away the tourist arrival numbers from the four neighbouring countries, the fact is that very much fewer tourists from outside South-East Asia are coming here.

Surely it is not because Malaysia is lacking in tourism products. If anything, we have an oversupply of them. Tourists are spoilt for choice.

Mount Kinabalu

Sabah has Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in South-East Asia, and Pulau Sipadan, a world-class diving paradise; Sarawak is renowned for its mix of rich ethnic cultures and a colourful colonial past; Malacca has a unique legacy of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences that live on in the people and architecture; Pahang offers eco-tourism and cool hill resorts; Penang has an unrivalled old world charm; numerous holiday islands with miles of beaches dot the seas offshore; and cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur is the centre of mega sales carnivals.

Perhaps people from more distant countries have only a vague idea of Malaysia or never heard of us.

National Strategy

I have advocated before that there must be a national strategy to build an easily identifiable image of Malaysia as an attractive holiday destination.

And I have urged the authorities concerned to move on from the current Malaysia – Truly Asia theme used in the overseas advertising campaign.

Continued use of this tagline will further blur the international image of Malaysia.

Once upon a time, Asia was mysterious and shrouded in myths and wonders that lured the adventurous from far-away lands.

Today, the rise of the mega-economies of China, Japan, India and South Korea has thrust Asia into the forefront of the world’s consciousness as a creative, innovative and wealthy region rivalling the power and sophistication of Europe and North America.

So people outside the region are very likely to think of China, Japan, India or South Korea when they think of Asia.

Malaysia is unlikely to come to their minds easily. Even if it does, it may be for all the wrong reasons.

Showing Malaysia as a land of feather dancers won’t help build a stronger positive image.

Feather dancers are not unique to Malaysia. They are found from New Zealand to China to Africa and North America.

If “Truly Asia” is to mean you could experience all of Asia in one place, why don’t we simply say: Malaysia – all of Asia in one place.

We need to update our image and create greater focus.

It is time to have a strategy to promote a single strong theme, creatively and innovatively woven into an image of a memorable, satisfying, comfortable, safe and modern country to have a holiday.

Truly Malaysian


We can have many secondary images but there should be one key image, one key message that people around the world will know of and speak of when speaking of Malaysia.

That image should be Truly Malaysian, and the most prominent feature of Malaysia is its multi-cultural identity.

Even “Malaysia – your gateway to Asia” says much more than “Truly Asia”.

Many other countries in East Asia, such as China, Japan and South Korea, are essentially mono-ethnic. An Indian or Caucasian in these countries is probably there as a tourist or to do business.

Although the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are increasingly multi-racial, they are still predominantly “white” countries.

On the other hand, Malaysia is a true “rainbow” nation. The different ethnic groups from West and East have blended into every facet of the country’s social, economic and political activities while retaining their individual traditions and cultural practices.

Therefore, I think Malaysia would do well to promote our multi-cultural diversity and our heritage that merges the East and the West, the old and the new.

We still have old parts in our cities sitting right next to the new. They should be refurbished and promoted.

In Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, the old city is maintained right next to the new, untouched. It is very nicely manicured. Every tree there is numbered and the trees are cared for by tree doctors.

Before winter, they will do what must be done to protect the trees and you cannot cut them down as they are all numbered.

That is how conscientious they are in conserving the things they value; in respecting their past.

That brands them positively in the eyes of visitors.

This sort of conservation culture is prominent in all the countries that attract the most number of tourists year after year.

If we don’t have anything positive to identify us, people will fill the vacuum with negative images. And that’s exactly what’s being done.

tansri photo

About Tan Sri Lim

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Lim Kok Wing, the Founder and President of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, does not fit into any ordinary mould that would describe most entrepreneurs.

His journey has been closely linked with the economic and social development of Malaysia.

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Linda Tan Lingard
2010 May 29

I agree that our multicultural identity is our strongest point and we must have the courage to throw away out-of-date practices.

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