Tourists pick Thailand over Langkawi

Diyana Ibrahim

Despite initial optimism, tourists are not returning to Langkawi after the MCO was lifted as predicted, opting for Thailand instead. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, April 17, 2023.

LANGKAWI has failed to attract as many tourists as expected of the duty-free island after the country emerged from Covid-19’s shadow, due to high costs and unreliable ferry services, industry players said.

They said tourists, even local visitors, find it cheaper to go to Thailand, while the problem of shallow waters at Kuala Kedah and Kuala Perlis jetties has hampered ferry crossings.

Langkawi Tourism Association chief executive officer Zainudin Kadir said the number of visitors using the ferry services had dropped by almost 40% as of last month.

“Numbers were down even during the school holidays, which should be peak season,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Langkawi’s ferries are now limited to only five trips a day from Kuala Kedah and three from Kuala Perlis, compared to a total of 12 previously, taking an average of 5,000 passengers a day.

Meanwhile, ferries have become stranded several times due to shallow waters, including stopping completely for two days in early March.

In September last year, former transport minister Wee Ka Siong announced Langkawi needed a new pier to overcome shallow water problems in Kuala Kedah and Kuala Perlis.

Zainudin said tourism companies are disappointed with the government’s inaction to date.

“Dredging was supposed to have been carried out during the movement-control order but it could not be done. After which, no effort was made to improve the service.

“The government said dredging will be completed by May 15, so we are waiting and hoping,” he said.

Dredging for navigation safety was last carried out in 2019.

Zainudin also blamed hotels for ramping up prices, making the cost of a holiday to Hatyai, Thailand, a more appealing option.

“Our association has urged the government to implement room ceiling rates,” he said.

Local tourist associations are banking on the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition to provide local businesses with a financial shot in the arm. – Quattro Communications handout, April 17, 2023.

Banking on Lima

Zainudin also hoped the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima) next month will help boost tourism.

“We received a very positive reaction with most of the rooms already booked in the month of the event.

“The association will also ensure that no businessmen or traders take advantage by raising the price of food and services,” he said.

In the meantime, the Kedah Consumers Association noted price rises not in keeping with Langkawi’s status as a duty-free island.

Association president Mohamad Yusrizal Yusoff believes goods have been subject to hidden taxes.

“In the past, all goods in Langkawi were tax-free. For example, tableware used to be very cheap because of its tax-free status.

“Yet now the price difference is noticeably expensive, no different to that on the mainland.

“We believe there is a hidden tax being imposed,” he said, adding that high prices will also make Thailand more appealing.

“We hope the situation improves, it does not need to be an overpriced holiday destination.

“Langkawi used to be very famous and tourists liked to come to the island because they could shop cheaply… unlike today,” he said.

Last year, 2.58 million tourists visited the island, compared with 3.92 million visitors in 2019. – April 17, 2023.

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