By YS Chan
IN August 2014, my letter “Act against unethical homestay operators” was published in a daily, which the Tourism and Culture Ministry (MOTAC) responded with “Registration of homestay on voluntary basis”.
Prior to that, I had spotted many “Homestay” signboards placed by the side of rural roads, and Dato Tuan Ibrahim, a friend of mine, had commented on the lack of creature comforts at one of these accommodations.
He was enticed by a “Homestay” signage and checked into a kampong house by the roadside that was not registered with MOTAC. A homestay programme requires the participation of at least 10 houses within a kampong, with bigger ones involving several villages.
Nationwide, there are 199 homestay clusters participated by 3,878 homes offering a total of 5,445 rooms. For the first quarter of this year, registered homestays received 63,967 domestic tourists and 16,537 foreign visitors.
Compared to the corresponding period last year, the numbers reduced drastically with domestic tourists by 37.4% and foreign visitors 17.6%. Total revenue dropped by 29.2% from RM9,344,246 to RM6,619,338.
Singapore, Japan, Korea, China and Europe accounted for 88.8% of foreign visitors, with 93.9% choosing Johor, Sabah, Melaka, Selangor and Sarawak combined.
Interestingly, 70.7% of Johor homestay guests were from Singapore, 42.1% to Sabah from Korea, 66% to Melaka from Singapore, 36.8% to Selangor from Japan, and 31.5% to Sarawak from Australia.
Occupancy rate in the first quarter dropped to 24.8% from 42.7% last year. As such, the expansion phase of the Malaysian Homestay Programme is over, and emphasis should be on introducing new initiatives to revitalise it.
There is no doubt existing activities allowing for experiential tourism are sound and proven, but dishing out more of the same may not get the desired results. Take for instance the bersanding ceremony.
If it is fascinating to watch, then it must be priceless for a foreign couple to be the sultan and sultanah for the day. There is no better way for them to celebrate their wedding anniversary than getting married again in Malaysia.
Imagine a successful son or daughter giving the parents a full expense paid trip to Malaysia to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Upon arrival at the airport, they are chauffeured to a 5-star hotel not far from the kampong where their wedding will take place.
Very early the next day when the morning is cool and before the day gets hot, they are brought to the kampong. On arrival, the lady will be brought into the venue first and later the man ushered in by a kompang troupe and bunga manggar carriers.
The blessing ceremony can be brought forward, starting with the locals. But unknown to the elderly couple seated at the Malay wedding dais, their children, relatives and friends have also made the same trip by taking another flight and staying at a different hotel.
Many would be shedding tears of joy when one by one emerged to sprinkle scented water on the couples’ palms, a la Malay style blessing. If captured on video and loaded on YouTube, it could go viral and make Malay weddings the vogue to celebrate wedding anniversaries.
The children, relatives and friends could also buy and wear Malay dresses, and learn Malay dances to perform at the wedding, which they could also re-enact back home to popularise Malay culture.
Every kampong is capable of organising a Malay wedding but for practical purpose, it is best a local cooperative act as coordinator to mobile villagers to play various roles. It is community based tourism at its finest.
Similarly, stones are found in every village. The harder and colourful stones can be grinded, polished and lacquered, and sold as stones named after the village, with prices ranging in tens of ringgit, depending on their size, shape and artistry.
Last week, I stayed at Chalet Desa Anggerik, a few kilometres away from Banghuris Homestay in Sepang district, where MOTAC conducted a workshop to revise training modules for the travel industry.
The chalet, with eight rooms in a row, was relatively new and transport to the meeting hall was provided in the form of 15-seater electric tram. It was very pleasant riding in the cool mornings and evenings.
Banghuris is coined from the names of three participating kampongs for the homestay cluster. They are Kampung Bukit Bangkong, Kampung Hulu Chuchuh and Kampung Hulu Teris, with a combined population of over 3,000.
Surrounded mostly by their own oil palm plantations, the villagers are the most prosperous I have ever seen, going by the size of their bungalows, which will make most city folks green with envy.
At the chalet and community hall, I did not notice any mosquitoes, as insects can be a nuisance deep in the rural areas. Guests would squirm if they find ants crawling inside their guest rooms, and flies can be a great nuisance and scary, if they could not be chased away.
If we wish to cater to well-travelled or international visitors, guest rooms must be provided with coffee and tea making facility, and hot water available at restaurant to drink or dilute overly sweet beverages, as ice-cold drinks are suitable only for locals.
While Malaysians go nuts with delicious food, never minding they are cooked with generous doses of salt, sugar, oil, fats, spices, preservatives, artificial colouring and flavour, health conscious visitors are more concerned with the freshness and cleanliness of their food.
Fruits cut opened and left to oxidise, or food cooked in advance and left to turn cold, may be common locally, but they are not appetising to those used to freshly cooked food served piping hot.
As such, views from travel industry players can point out the expectations of guests to homestay operators. Visitors will share their comfortable stay through social media, and such word-of-mouth will bring in more tourists.
On the other hand, those who had to endure shortcomings would rather remain silent than complain, and unlikely to recommend others to suffer the same experience.
*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Times (TMT).