A great man is a torch in the darkness, a beacon in superstition’s night, an inspiration and a prophecy.

– Robert Green Ingersoll, American writer and orator

When people could travel to almost anywhere in the world freely and safely, local tourism industry players repeatedly called on the authorities to spend more money on effective tourism promotions to increase foreign tourist arrivals and revenues.

As the Covid-19 outbreak had turned international travel upside down, industry players must now depend more on domestic tourism after the movement control order is lifted. Although it will be relatively safe to makan angin (holiday) within the country, it would be foolish to throw caution to the wind.

This is because no place on earth can be perfectly safe, including our own homes, as safety or security depends very much on individuals. Also, Malaysians staying at home have a greater chance of catching dengue fever than contracting coronavirus while travelling.

Last year, total dengue fever cases shot up by 61 percent to over 130,000 in Malaysia, but the increase was relatively low compared to other countries such as Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and China that reported up to 400 percent!

Instead of isolating oneself and parents over sheltering their children, it is better to develop discipline and clean habits by travelling and exposing to different surroundings, taking cognisance that people nearby could have coronavirus and things within reach may be contaminated.

I stand balanced on escalators instead of placing one or both hands on the rubber handrail. I use my shoulder to push open glass doors instead of using my hand. When there is no one ahead of me, I would place a tissue on the handle before opening the main door of washrooms.

Habits define us much more than our beliefs. They are acquired through frequent repetition and become second nature that we may be unconscious of them. Likewise, most of us learned to look at things the same way as others and seldom think outside the box.

As a travel industry veteran, I have been hearing tourism authorities calling on industry players to come up with more creative tour packages over the past decades, but they remained largely unchanged since I started tour guiding in 1973 and later moved into management and training.

After the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan was unveiled in 2011, we kept repeating the target of attracting 36 million foreign tourist arrivals and earning RM168 billion receipts annually by 2020.

In July 2018, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said the 33.1 million tourists target for the year will be maintained, higher than 2017 target of 31.8 million. But these targets were missed by a mile as arrivals for 2017 and 2018 were only 25.95 million and 25.83 million respectively.

If tourism authorities and industry players have inherent weaknesses, would they be able to boost domestic tourism? The answer is no if more time and money is spent on dishing out more of the same. Nothing short of a paradigm shift is needed to transform our tourism industry.

Last year, I was appointed master trainer for both the Travel and Tours Enhancement Course for travel agents and Mesra Malaysia for tourism frontliners, by virtue of having helped developed the training modules. We now have more than 120 certified trainers for these courses nationwide.

To boost domestic tourism, I have conceptualised and developed an entirely new one-day training programme that is even more stimulating and useful, as it is not limited to travel agents or tourism frontliners, but suitable for everyone including civil servants and community leaders.

I have coined a new terminology “Tourism Torchbearers” to describe people who are observant, innovative and empowered to lead or inspire others into discovering or creating new tourism products or repackaging existing ones to make them more appealing and popular. They are trained to unlock the full potential of their destinations.

Torchbearers encourage businesses and residents to participate or promote tourism for the benefit of their community. They can turn local resources, which may be untapped or unnoticed, into products that can attract hordes of excursionists and tourists virtually overnight.

Torchbearers are trained to explain tourism holistically and discuss its benefits with local stakeholders; unearth new tourism products waiting to be discovered or created; recognise and exploit the full potential of products already on offer; and prepare action plans starting from the drawing board to attracting more visitors and ensuring their numbers continue to grow.

Every place on earth can be turned into a tourist attraction and all Malaysian cities, towns and villages contain huge treasure troves that many people hold dear but remain hidden. Through innovation, local resources can be better organised, produced, packaged or showcased to visitors from nearby and afar.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.