Malaysia Tourism Minister Remarks at ITB Berlin Casts a Doubt over his Competences

Malaysia, culture, LGBT, ITB Berlin

Malaysia was the partner country of ITB Berlin 2019. However, a remark of the Minister of Tourism Mohamaddin Ketapi over homosexuality rose controversies, particularly over the capacities of the 62-year old minister of being able to understand cultural differencies…

When Malaysia decided to become partner country of ITB Berlin back to 2018, the idea for the previous Minister of Tourism Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, the idea was to raise the profile of Malaysia, particularly to the international tourism trade, particularly to European companies. Malaysia got indeed worldwide exposure but not really the one the country has originally thought of.

As a partner country, ITB Berlin press conference always gives an opportunity to officials of the host country to talk to media. And according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and to Berlin daily ‘newspaper Berliner Morgenpost,  the current minister of tourism Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi was asked by the German media whether Malaysia would welcome gays and Jewish people.

Tourism Minister caused consternation in Germany when he explained that they are no homosexuals in Malaysia. German media quoted him as declaring “I don’t think we have anything like that in our country.”

The Minister’s answer is a rather surprising answer, forcing the entourage of the Minister to then bring an explanation. A day following the Minister’s answer, the Ministry denied Ketapi’s words. The Ministry clarified the issue, saying that what Minister Mohamaddin Ketapi meant to say was that there were no LGBT+ campaign being planned in Malaysia.

“As a main tourism destination in Asia, Malaysia has never and will not do anything to stop our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural beliefs,” the ministry was quoted in a statement said to the Singapore Strait Times.

Meanwhile, the story has gone all around the world with media such as CNN, the Daily Mail, Newsweek, the Jakarta Post, Reuters or Singapore Strait Times reporting the minister unfortunate words.

Although homosexuality is banned with gay activities being punished by law, Malaysia never arrested tourists due to their sexual orientation. And while, homosexuality is considered by many as a ‘sin’ against the country’s social  S cultural values, there is a comprehensive but rather discreet homosexual community in the country, including a couple of bars and clubs in Kuala Lumpur.

Homosexuality per se is not criminalized. However sodomy is considered a crime. The Minister’s statement asks questions about the ability of the Minister to understand the outcome of tourism. For the current Minister, tourism seems to be an economic activity, denying the human factor of  travel. To declare to be open to the world and trying to lure tourists, means also to understand that tourists might bring with then differences in their way they think. Of course, visitors have to adapt to the country they are visiting by understanding local culture. But this is also a matter of reciprocity…

Ketapi should have better answered that “anybody is welcomed to Malaysia but foreign travellers must also understand that Malaysia is rather a conservative country. Some particular behaviours would potentially upset locals”.

Unfortunately, the Minister has been incapable to understand that his audience in Berlin was mostly composed of Westerners. And that denying the fact that homosexuality exists, would tarnish rather than improve Malaysia image.

Deputy President of the opposition party Malaysian Chinese Association’s (MCA) Mah Hang Soon resumed very well the situation in local newspaper the Star. He judged that Mohamaddin’s  remarks have made Malaysia a laughing stock, even raising doubt over the performance of certain ministers.

For sure, the Minister’s remark gave a lot of publicity to Malaysia. But certainly not the expected one…