Long before the Covid-19 outbreak, Malaysians were often reminded to travel within the country instead of heading overseas because our local attractions are just as good, if not better. Such claims do not hold water because these are not apples to apples comparison.

If one wishes to have a relaxing holiday, then there is nothing better than a local resort as it involves less travelling. Going through immigration and in a foreign country can be stressful. But if one is looking for vastly different sights, sounds and tastes, they are found mostly abroad.

With Covid-19 outbreak under control and countries opening borders, international travel may resume but no longer as popular as before because airfares will be much higher and risky for travellers, as they could be stranded in a swift lockdown to curb a sudden coronavirus outbreak.

With the implementation of the movement control order from March 18, many Malaysians have lost income through pay cuts, job losses or unable to earn a living for those self-employed. The pandemic had made people everywhere to be more cautious of their spending.

Not many Malaysians will be buying domestic tour packages which normally include the cost of airport transfers, hotel accommodation and sightseeing or activity at a destination. This is because flights and accommodation can easily be booked online.

Joining tour groups used to be popular as the cost of a tour bus could be shared by 40 passengers but doubled if the number is limited to 20. Until the law is amended, passengers would also have to pay for a tourist guide that usually cost around RM200 per day, not counting the customary tipping at RM10 per passenger per day.

Licensing of tourist guides was introduced in 1975. In those days, travel guidebooks were popular with foreign tourists, with many of them reading up before travelling overseas and would verify with local guides on what they have read.

But today, people use their smartphones more to communicate with others than face-to-face and use them to check for any information they want on the spot without having to ask anyone. Although online information may not be accurate, it is better than subjective opinion.

Forcing passengers to pay for a tourist guide they do not need or want is not only unfair, the law has stifled domestic tours over the past decades. It should be amended to mandatory use of a licensed practitioner when customers wish to hire and pay for a tourist guide.

Mercifully, overall expenditure in domestic tourism has kept growing and surpassed RM100 billion last year with more than 98 percent of the visitors driving their own vehicles or using land public transport, and less than two percent bought tour packages.

There had been many suggestions on developing domestic tourism, but intangible measures have little effect. What we need are more concrete actions and none better than building one-stop centres in every city and large town across the country.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture could encourage local authorities to have one-stop centres purpose-built for visitors. Apart from toilet and parking facilities, these centres are to house all the best food in town with many shops and stalls selling local produce.

Only local produce can be sold including farmed fishes, fruits and vegetables, local coffees, cookies and biscuits, and items manufactured by factories within the municipality. Anything from outside, particularly fake or imported goods, are to be confiscated.

Without such one-stop centres, many motorists have driven past and missed the best foods in town. With one-stop centres, visitors have easy access to what are produced or manufactured locally and the chance to buy them fresher and cheaper.

Last year, 98.3% of the 238 million domestic visitors used land transport and spent RM15.1 billion on automotive fuel as the vast majority drove their own vehicles. The high percentage will remain as many desire convenience and practise social distancing.

Domestic travel will become more enjoyable and meaningful when many cities and towns have well-managed one-stop centres. They are bound to attract domestic visitors and foreign tourists as they offer truly Malaysian experiences with unique local flavours.

They must stay authentic and not sell the same imitation goods that can be found in street markets all over the world such as in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. It is time for our country to design and offer the Malaysian brand of tourism to make it ‘Truly Malaysia’.