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Paradise found

Article - April 3, 2012
Malaysia offers visitors - among them scuba-divers, golfers, foodies, Formula One fans, eco-tourists and those who just want to lie on a beautiful beach - a unique blend of modern sophistication and timeless Zen-Buddhist tranquillity
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2010 a total of 24.58 million people visited Malaysia – making it the ninth most popular destination on the planet. Those visitors are staying longer, and spending more, helping make tourism the country’s second largest industry (after manufacturing).

The sector has been growing steadily since 2000, with international arrivals increasing by 9% per year. By 2020, it is expected 36 million tourists will visit each year.

The domestic travel sector is also thriving, registering an average growth of 20%. A choice of accommodation (i.e. excellent value-for-money five-star hotels, alongside traditional style family run guesthouses), better infrastructure (especially the development of several regional as well as the eight state-of-the-art international airports), increased GDP and fuller employment, have also seen domestic tourism figures rise.

In 2009 for example, revenue reached RM25.98 billion, an increase of 23% compared with 2008. That same year, 90.5 million visitors enjoyed the country’s local tourist destinations (beautiful Sarawak, the astonishing Batu Caves, Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands, the paradise islands of Langkawi, Kota Kinabulu), compared with 63.3 million the previous year.

The city of Kuala Lumpur (or KL) now hosts over 12 million domestic visitors annually, and was also the No.1 destination among foreigners. KL’s allure lies in the fact that it is an ultra-modern city that has managed to retain its original charm. Colonial wooden buildings on stilts co-exist with stunning skyscrapers, and KL’s Chinatown district is among the world’s most vibrant.

The city – which offers unrivalled museums and first class shopping opportunities (in particular for electronic goods) – is best viewed from the top of the Petronas Towers, until recently the tallest buildings in the world. As the Lonely Planet guide says, “Beautiful heritage, stunning modern architecture, delicious streetside meals, masses of markets and malls, and an engaging mix of cultures wait to be discovered in KL…’’ No wonder so many overseas visitors are choosing it as a second home.

The current healthy state of tourism is the result of long-term planning: government programs such as ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’ (1999) contributed to a growing awareness of what the country had to offer. Cognizant of the growing trend for ecotourism, the Government more recently launched a campaign called ‘Malaysia Green, Malaysia Clean’.
This initiative has attracted, among others, those interested in diving, and Malaysia is fast becoming one of the world’s leading destinations for enthusiastic divers. The incredible bio-diversity of marine life (hammerhead sharks, barracudas, turtles, Frogfish, Ghost Pipefish) coupled with copious wrecks, undisturbed coral reefs, and clear warm waters, keep divers coming back. The country’s dive centers are numerous, well equipped and certified by all the internationally recognized agencies (PADI, SSI and SSAC).

Malaysia’s islands are equally fascinating. Penang, where the British first established a foothold, boasts elaborate colonial architecture as well as a notable Chinese influence. The island’s main center of Georgetown has several noteworthy sites, and once again the bewildering mix of biodiversity yields pristine beaches on the north coast, jungle in the interior and a breathtaking new national park on the northwest headland.

Visitors wishing to escape the heat usually head for The Cameron Highlands in the center of the Malay peninsular. The Highlands, a series of hill stations at 5,000 to 6,000 feet, were established by the British during colonial rule. This fertile area is the heart of Malaysia's tea industry and offers calming shaded gardens, jungle trekking and ice cold waterfalls.

In stark contrast, the Formula One program in Sepang attracts those seeking a very different kind of high-octane experience. However, it has been noted that these visitors are extending their stays, doubling up on Formula One/golfing packages, and bringing an estimated RM 200m to the economy per year.

Indeed, Malaysia is rapidly emerging as South East Asia's golfing haven. With nearly 200 golf courses, Malaysia has bloomed as the ideal destination for combining a memorable vacation with a few exciting rounds of golf. “Whether one chooses to tee-off in the cool highlands, amidst lush greenery or by the fringe of the South China Sea, one can do so in superbly-designed, international standard golf courses’’ (Golfworld).

Malaysian food is most certainly a factor in people extending their visits, or planning returns. The cuisine is astonishing in its variety – with Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian and Portuguese influences  – and in its use of fresh ingredients, seafood and aromatic herbs and spices. Popular Malaysian dishes include satay, nasi lemak, rendang, roti canai, murtabak, laksa, chicken rice, and fried noodles. The standard – even at roadside bazaars – is superb, and prices, like much else in this increasingly popular but as yet unspoilt paradise, are very attractive.
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Yosuke Kawasaki


Yasuhiro Tochimoto

President and CEO
Kawasaki Geological Engineering Co., Ltd.



Toshikazu YAGUCHI

ATOX Co., Ltd.