Visit Year Kedah 2016, a Low-Profile Event

Zahir Mosque seen from the Sultan Palace

Kedah State in Malaysia named 2016 its “Discovery Year Kedah”. Except that little has been really done to promote properly the entire State and help tourists coming there…

Earlier this year, Malaysia’s State of Kedah announced with much fanfare the launching of its Discover Kedah 2016. In January, Kedah Premier Mukhriz Mahathir, declared that the weakening Ringgit (Malaysia’s local currency) would be a major factor to entice domestic travellers to spend their holiday at home while attracting foreign travellers, happy to get a few points of purchasing power. According to Mahathir, Kedah is due to receive by the end of the year over five million travellers, conssiting of 63% of local tourists, the rest being foreign travellers. But the possibility to  achieve this target remains unlikely.

In 2015, Kedah had a total of 2.54 million tourists, of which 1.21 were foreign travellers. However, the bulk of all foreign arrivals goes to the Island of Langkawi -which is part of Kedah. From the 1,21 million of foreign travellers, Langkawi alone attracted 1.16 million of them, leaving a mere 5,000 visitors for the rest of the State.

And unfortunately, the Visit Kedah campaign 2016, will have changed little. The Premier was right early this year when he admitted to local media that with only one year preparation, Kedah was not in a position to solve issues such as poor infrastructure at tourist attractions. We have also requested assistance from the federal government to help us with the infrastructure issues which we can not afford on our own. “However I am satisfied with the overall preparation made and I believe this programme will prepare us for the next visit Kedah campaign which may be held within five or ten years from now,” reported Malaysia’s daily New Straits Times.

Concretely, not a lot has been so far done in the State to properly promote it as a true tourist destination. “Most of the efforts targeted Langkawi while the main target for the entire State remained the domestic market”, explains Sgir Yoganthiran Manikam, Deputy Director of Tourism Malaysia for Kedah and South Thailand. Such as in Alor Setar, the charming capital city of Kedah.

Looking for tourist services?

Alor Setar is definitely a nice place to visit, a perfect week-end destination. It has its fair share of attractions with its colonial city centre, its Sultan’s palace, the majestic 100 year-old Zahir Mosque in Moorish style, an impressive Thai buddhist temple and a modern TV tower, the second highest after the one in Kuala Lumpur. It even has a good shopping mall in town with a large number of attractive shops. Except that nothing has been prepared for travellers coming during this “Discover Kedah 2016”.

Problems for first-time visitors start for example at the new rail station, which is directly link to Thailand and to Penang/Kuala Lumpur. No ATM for someone without local Ringgit, no city map, no information about public transport or ways to reach the city-centre. In town, maps are indeed non-existent while travellers will have to guess where the city’s main attractions are located as there is very little signage around town.

Alor Setar Big Clock tower and the TV Tower
Alor Setar Big Clock tower and the TV Tower

A tourist information centre is open next to the Balai Besar (Sultan Palace) and Zahir Mosque. However, it is closed on Friday and Saturday. Not due to the lack of visitors but, according to a friendly, rather talkative employee “because they are no open toilets as we follow public buildings opening hours!”. Asked about a map of the city, she said. “We run out of them a month after they were printed as we did not get enough”. The only available map is the one edited by Kedah National Museum which highlights a heritage trail in town. But so small printed that it is almost impossible to read without using a microscope…

When asked about the possibility to rent a bike, neither the information centre or hotels could point to a rental shop. With reason: no one offers this kind of service in Alor Setar despite the increasing popularity of practicing bike tourism. And the fact that it is a environment-friendly way to discover the city!

Of course, the State Government might say that today, most people use apps on their mobile and could find all information there…. Most people but not all of them. Alor Setar is really a charming city with friendly people. It is a bit surprising that nothing has been done to make tourists at ease or at least to facilitate the discovery of the city. Rather than putting everywhere banners about Discover Kedah 2016, the State should have better think of ways to please travellers. It is to be hoped that more efforts were done in Langkawi, Kedah flagship tourism destination…