Tourism revisited

Despite the wonders of the internet it is still quite nice to have a newspaper delivered to one’s room in an hotel. Today I opened my New Straits Times ( new because like The Times of London it has gone tabloid size). The front page was full of details of the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech on tourism and the changes taking place that his country would focus on. It was full of marketing gobbledygook with weird phrases like the creation of a new global elite and money rich time poor super rich etc.

His speech almost echoed speeches reported in Thailand when we were there and Vietnam as well as similar ones heard from almost every tourist board around the world.

Anyway the gist of it is apparently that they want to attract the new high spending tourists from China, Russia, the Middle East and India. Well which country doesn’t ? The trouble is they often are mega rich because they work incredibly hard and rarely take holidays. They also tend to cluster where the others are in well established destinations . There also aren’t that many of them compared to mass tourism .

Since 1998 European and Australian tourism here in Penang has been falling every year as tourists head off to other places . Tourism here is now mainly from Indonesia , a little from China and Japan and the rest is weekenders from K.L. The most popular month for tourists is August . Penang has watched islands like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and Phu Quoc in Vietnam take their bread and butter.

George Town on Penang is a UNESCO world heritage site and when here 3 years ago UNESCO in, to me, a surprising move as I always felt they didn’t make waves, threatened the State government with the removal of the UNESCO name as more and more of the town was being developed and ruined. Walking around today in George Town there was some proof that things had changed and the rows of empty buildings that greeted us then seem to have new tenants rather than being knocked down and another sky scraper put up in it’s place.Old World George Town

When here in the 1980s and 1990s Love lane was a thriving street full of shops with lots of tailors and dress makers. They all disappeared but now it has been re-invented as a back packer area with bars, hostels, cafes and small restaurants. It is again a vibrant place just different than before

Love Lane George Town

Another great trend is the development of rows of these terrace shops as upmarket boutique hotels.

The Seven Terraces Hotel is great example of this

Seven Terraces Hotel George Town 

The hotel has been developed by the same two guys that built several boutique places in the Old Fort at Galle in Sri Lanka. It isn’t cheap with rooms starting at £120 but nor is it for the mega rich either . There are a few of these now and hopefully loads more will follow as booking rooms in them is quite difficult, they fill so quickly.

If only this kind of development had started in 2000 rather than 2011 how different the tourism figures might have been and George town would have retained it’s original charm and still been the Pearl of the Orient .

Mind you things have gone  backwards in the last few years with the advent of the cruise liners docking here.

When I first came here in 1975 George Town resounded to the tinkle of bicycle bells . There were a few motor taxis but in the main you got around by tricycle taxi with a guy peddling away for all he was worth behind you .

Tricycle Taxi

It was exciting stuff as you were thrust out into the traffic first so he could see around the corner. They of course died out when taxis became the norm and a few decorated the driveways of hotels or the inside of the odd restaurant to remind people how it used to be. There was a feeling that this type of transport was somewhat demeaning for the pseddler and an hangover from colonial times so the State government was keen to see the back of them.

In Hanoi when the Communists came to power in 1955 they stopped the man pulled rickshaw as it was seen also there as Colonial suppression. Today one of the senior Ministers family own an huge amusement park just outside Hanoi and to get around it visitors  use one of the man pulled rickshaws. How quickly they forget when money is involved.

So too here in Penang, Colonial hangovers be damned, there’s dollars in them there peddles.

The cruise line guys here also saw the potential for resurrecting the tricycle taxi. Today three large cruise liners were docked in town and once again the streets rang with the sound of bells.

Tricycle George Town

They stretch back as far as you can see and about 40 had already gone past me. The trouble is for the lads peddling is that westerners ( and Malays who have a countrywide massive obesity problem ) have got much fatter than when these were the normal way to get around. This is probably more so for cruise passengers . So it was fun to see that in many of the tricycle taxis the couple could not fit comfortably in without one or the other sitting up off the seat. Indeed in some only one could fit and the partner followed behind in another.

God knows what the excursion office on the various cruise lines charge for this but hopefully these lads peddling away are well paid. Today the temperature was 35C (96F)and humidity was really high as well. Where two had managed to squeeze in several of the lads were pushing their tricycles rather than trying to peddle such was the weight inside.

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