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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Is Chong Wei best choice for Sabah tourism ambassador?

 

The appointment of Lee Chong Wei as the new tourism ambassador by the Sabah government has drawn some strong reactions from many Sabahans.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Lee or that they have anything personal against him. It’s just that the appointment of a West Malaysian has hit a raw nerve at this point in time.

Sabah and Sarawak are in a limbo of sorts following the indefinite postponement of the proposed constitutional changes to the Borneo states’ status. The attempted changes to Article 1 ((2) of the Federal Constitution by the previous Pakatan Harapan government ended in failure.

There was high expectation that this time it would happen as the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Parliament and the law, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, had listed it as one of the four key initiatives to be executed in his first 100 days in office.

Looks like he will face the same fate as Sabah and Sarawak affairs minister Maximus Ongkili who had promised that the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) issues would be resolved within six months when the previous Perikatan Nasional government ruled.

The appointment of Lee, a non-Sabahan, has come at an inopportune moment, when the delay in tabling Article 1 (2) has caused great angst in Sabah and Sarawak.

It seems, therefore, that Sabah Tourism is out of sync with the sentiments of most Sabahans.

A visit to Wisma Sabah, whose ground floor used to be occupied by many tourism agencies, shows how bad the situation is; many are shuttered for good. Wisma Sabah is in the heart of town and it’s hard not to notice the empty spaces formerly occupied by tourism operators.

In 2019, total tourism receipts amounted to RM8.42 billion while tourism tax revenue was RM12 million. A total of 4.1 million tourist arrivals were recorded, with 40.7% of international visitors to Sabah coming from China.

Netizens are saying that Sabah had managed to attract that many tourists without the help of Lee. So why do we need him now, they ask. Others question the role of Unduk Ngadau, our Harvest Festival queen, who rightfully should have been appointed tourism ambassador for Sabah.

With many people working overtime on WhatsApp and Facebook, some quipped that Lee was “too skinny” to represent Sabah, which has the highest poverty rate in Malaysia. His physique, they said, might reinforce the look of the poverty-stricken population in the rural areas. Also, with the high unemployment rate in Sabah, netizens asked how much he was being paid and why such a position could not be filled by a local.

The negative publicity has not helped Sabah tourism, unlike the Timah whisky controversy, and local tourism officials will be hard pressed to explain their decision to appoint Lee.

Badminton does not have a huge following around the world unlike football or Formula 1. It would be better for the Sabah government to appoint Lewis Hamilton as tourism ambassador and to be paid by Petronas as Petronas has extracted huge revenue from Sabah since 1976. It’s about time it returned Sabah the favour.

The company behind Timah, an international award-winning whisky, used the image of Tristam Speedy, a British adventurer who became the first assistant resident of Perak as its “ambassador”.

That goes to show that you don’t need a living person to be an ambassador. Sabah could have used Mat Salleh, the legendary warrior who led a rebellion against British rule, as its image for ambassador.

Tourism is unlikely to recover anytime soon. Although people have the yearning to travel, country restrictions and recurring Covid-19 breakouts will be a common occurrence. A case in point is Singapore that depends on tourism and international trade.

Tourists will most likely travel within the country, and Sabah is already a well-known tourism destination.

Perhaps, Lee is better placed to be a badminton coach for Sabah as the state lacks great athletes such as Pandelela Rinong of Sarawak, an Olympic silver medallist. Due to the lack of sports personalities, Sabah has to rely on imports from Malaya.

Some people asked what Lee would be promoting. Although Sabah tourism says it is promoting eco-tourism, the opposite is happening at the Kota Kinabalu waterfront. We are seeing massive reclamation works to build taller buildings to compete with the likes of Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

We read on a regular basis that our pygmy elephants are being poisoned and turtles slaughtered. Very few culprits are brought to book. Not forgetting that our rhinos are already extinct. Can Lee counter the damage done to Sabah wildlife and the environment?

Lee may be a good choice to promote badminton but many Sabahans are wondering where he fits in Sabah tourism promotion. He looks out of place wearing the “Sigah”, a Kadazandusun traditional headgear.

Still, best of luck to the new Sabah Tourism ambassador. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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