Dato’ Azizan Noordin, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of Langkawi Development Authority, is a man of action and has set a fast pace for himself in his 100 days in office.
Within a short period, he has whipped up a calendar of 35 major events that averages 3 happenings per month to draw tourists in droves to the legendary Langkawi. The potent combination of global networking that he cultivated while serving as Tourism Malaysia Deputy Director-General (Marketing) coupled with his newly acquired skills as a fully registered tour guide is undoubtedly the key to success.
where2 speaks to Dato’ Azizan recently and here’s what he shares his vision for Langkawi.
Q. Your 100 days as LADA CEO has come and gone. Within that short time, you have set the agenda and also the fast pace of work for yourself. Would you like to elaborate on the work in progress?
I must admit that time really flies fast, especially when you are in the tourism industry. Time is crucial. You must be able to make a quick decision with a proven result. Tourism is a fast moving industry. People keep changing and you must be alert at all times.
Since taking office as the CEO of LADA, I have put up a Calendar of Events 2017 for Langkawi to ensure that the island continues to be an attractive destination for domestic and international tourists. I received so much support and help from old friends of the industry and by reconnecting with event organisers that I have worked before, I have made COE 2017 a reality. There are 35 exciting events lined up for 2017, ranging from international exhibitions, cultural and music festivals and sporting events. Some of these events are returning to Langkawi for yet another year whilst some are new events organized for the first time.
For 2017, we also plan 30 community events for Langkawi local community. These events are to nurture interest and participation of the local community in the tourism industry.
Q. On the administration side, you have beefed up your staff with officials who have adequate tourism-related experience those with whom you would not have had to waste time to move and act seamlessly along with you. Do you want to add?
Yes. There have been several changes that I have made in order to make LADA move at a faster pace to catch up with the constantly changing tourism industry. I have appointed officials from Tourism Malaysia who has vast experience to spearhead the Tourism Division into the next level.
Q. You have decided to work and collaborate with international airlines to encourage them to jointly promote and to grow the airlines’ presence in Langkawi. What is your target?
I believe connectivity is vital to Langkawi’s tourism progress. Especially Langkawi itself being an island, we need constant connectivity to and from other destinations around the world. The regional aviation industry in Asia is growing and is reaching smaller destinations. I hope that regional airlines would establish new routes, by then it can attract tourism, investment, and jobs. I had several meetings with airline operators and they sounded positive to make Langkawi one of their routes. There are clear signs that Langkawi needs more direct international flights to boost interest among foreigners to visit this Island.
Q. You have mentioned the importance of attracting high-end travelers and international Vogue Magazine has voted Langkawi as the 6th hottest tourism destination for 2017. What are your plans to take tourism in Langkawi to the next level?
Currently, Langkawi has been voted as the 6th hottest tourism destination 2017 alongside Bali, Hawaii, and Mauritius. With the COE 2017 in place, we hope to increase the number of tourist arrivals to Langkawi.
Currently, Langkawi receives about 2.4 million local visitors and 1.2 million international visitors per year. They enjoy very much its beaches, beauty and rich natural landscape, historical sites and attractions of food, culture, and shopping.
It is the aspiration of LADA to position Langkawi as the gateway to Southern Thailand and Koh Lipe as well as to the states of Kedah and Perlis in the Northern Corridor.
Q. St Regis Langkawi has landed while Ritz Carlton, Langkawi, will soon open in July. These two international luxurious hotels speak well of how high-end travelers are receptive of Langkawi as the playground for the rich and famous. Would you like to share on what else coming in the near future?
Hotels in Langkawi recorded occupancy rates of between 75% to 95% last year. Langkawi is known to be one of the hotel markets with the highest average daily rate (ADR) in the country and is expected to continue performing well in the coming years. The recent opening of St Regis Langkawi and other upcoming premium luxury brands will have a significant impact and broaden Langkawi’s hotel market that was mainly dominated by the Four Seasons, Westin, Andaman and The Datai.
In the near future, Langkawi will have its first water theme park, that is the Langkawi Water Kingdom located in Kuah town. The water theme park which cost RM60 million will boost future tourism demand.
While the present Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre (MIEC) and Langkawi International Convention Centre (LICC) will continue to allow business and other types conferences to be held on the island, with its international standard facilities.
Q. Langkawi Tourism Blueprint 2.0 promises a purpose-driven programme to tap Langkawi’s tourism potential to turn this archipelago of 99 islands in a top world destination. How would it succeed in a soft economic scenario?
The Langkawi Tourism Blueprint (2011 to 2015) was officially launched on 8 December 2011 by the Prime Minister with the purpose of increasing tourist arrivals and spending and the targets of at least three million tourist arrivals and investment of at least RM5 billion, both of which have been achieved.
Tourist arrivals since 2012 have steadily risen from 3.06 million to 3.62 million in 2015, while investment rose from RM5.08 billion to RM11.9 billion. To further enhance tourism, the Langkawi Tourism Blueprint 2.0 (2016-2020) was drawn up and has been tabled to the Kedah State Government for recommendation before it will be discussed further at the Federal level.
Q. How do you take advantage of a weakened Ringgit to make Langkawi conducive for more inbound travelers who would have a higher spending power to spend lavishly in Malaysia? Your say.
At the moment, Malaysia is facing the ringgit’s depreciation. The ringgit has hit an all-time low as compared to other known currencies. But not to worry, on the other hand, it will help boost competitiveness in export and attract tourist arrivals to the country. Similarly, Langkawi being a free duty island, the decline will attract foreign tourists because the island is cheaper and affordable. To the locals, traveling within the country is much better that having to travel overseas which is much more expensive.
Q. Domestic visitors still form the bulk of tourists to Langkawi. Though they are not big spenders, nevertheless their visits keep tourism business afloat. What are plans to promote Langkawi locally?
The majority of tourists to Langkawi are domestic tourists which made up of almost 70% of the total market. Most of them spend very few days in Langkawi and do their shopping and visiting attracting sites are their main objective.
Normally, domestic tourist arrivals peak towards the end of the year. There are plans to organise locally theme event throughout the year to attract them to visit Langkawi from time to time. For instance, at the end of 2017, Ironman Triathlon will make a comeback for the 4th time.
Whilst for the first time, Langkawi International Bird Fair will make its way in November. This Bird Fair aims to highlight and showcase the different species of birds and promote the protection of birds, their habitats, encourage bird watching and ecotourism activities.
In December, Langkawi will be hosting two music concerts namely, The Langkawi Island Music Festival and The Langkawi International Blues Roots Aseana (Libra).
Q. Are only world-class attractions such as Sky Bridge the way to go to showcase Langkawi’s attractiveness while its natural beauty such as Global Geopark relegated to take on a role as second fiddle?
As we are proud to have world-class attractions in Langkawi, there are more attractions in Langkawi, especially the natural beauty of the islands, which is the main source of tourism. We have suggested and implemented a bottom-up approach for future development that focuses on economic, social and environmental sustainability. This approach means the involvement of the local community in the decision-making process is crucial in directing Langkawi’s development in days to come. We take account of suggestions of implementing zoning system based on supply, branding, and resources.
For example, the northwest area i.e. Pantai Kok, will be designated for luxury stay while Pantai Cenang area is for family recreational activities.
Q. Local culture and its heritage should be regarded as the ‘soul’ of Langkawi. This seemed to have been sidelined in the quest for quick profit. What are your plans to resurrect this aspect of our culture?
Kedah is known to be rich in its culture and heritage alike. It reflects a diversity and this can be seen in their arts, craft, food, songs and dances. Langkawi being part of Kedah reflects the same attractions. Located at Teluk Yu is the Langkawi Craft Complex that showcases many artistic local products such as batik painting, wood carvings, glass blowing, plaiting, and weaving.
The Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation is located near Pantai Pasir Tengkorak and houses many worthy art pieces by the late Ibrahim and collections of various other artists.
Laman Padi at Pantai Cenang is a rice museum where exhibits include rice planting tools, charts, photographs and various related artifacts. Visitors have the chance to participate in paddy planting activities during the paddy growing season.
In conjunction with Kedah’s Art and Cultural programme in August, Langkawi Fest sets to transform this tranquil island into a vibrant hub of colourful decorations, live music, and joyous cultural performances. While in September, tourist and local residents will be able to see flying colourful kites with different shapes and sizes during the Langkawi International Kite Festival.
Q. The call for Langkawi to embrace sustainable tourism practices is mounting. The Prime Minister has declared Langkawi should become the first carbon zero island in the country. What have been done in this aspect?
There are steps being taken by the local government to achieve the first Malaysia’s low-carbon status island by 2030 as has been declared by the Prime Minister recently. Apart from establishing Langkawi Municipal Council as the Secretariat for green practices, studies have been carried out to find ways and means to achieve the status.
According to the Member of Parliament for Langkawi, Yang Berhormat Dato’ Ir Nawawi Bin Ahmad, a consultant has been appointed to help the island achieve the low-carbon status. Plans will be taken to support the national agenda to reduce carbon emissions to 40 per cent by the year 2020.
A feasibility study on Low Carbon Langkawi 2030 is being conducted in collaboration with the Government of South Korea using Jeju Island as a comparative benchmark. Langkawi could be a showcase for renewable energy, electric mobility, waste management and green buildings which would create more job opportunities for local people and increase the island’s income by promoting green tourism.
Nawawi has urged the Federal Government to provide subsidies or allocations for green technology projects and suggested adopting the use of electric-powered motorcycles and later introducing electric cars over the next 5 years to 10 years.