Mita expects to attract more than 15,000 tourists from China to Kelantan this year
by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by BLOOMBERG
The new East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) route is projected to boost the tourism industry in the East Coast with proposed new stations located at strategic tourist hotspots, according to industry players.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis said it is vital for the government to retain rail stations at high-density towns in order to provide an adequate and efficient facility to serve incoming tourists.
“We need to make sure these stations have facilities in Kota Baru, Kuala Terengganu and Kuantan, Pahang, which are the main towns in the east coast corridor, instead of stopping at small cities that are not viable,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) via a phone interview recently.
Uzaidi said the ECRL connectivity will ease tourists’ journey to the east coast, which may take longer than a six-hour long drive from Kuala Lumpur.
For instance, he said currently there is no alternative transportation connecting Terengganu and Kelantan except the federal roads.
“It is not convenient for travellers who need to spend up to three hours for a short-distance journey.”
As for Kelantan, Uzaidi believes Kota Baru — the riverside capital and home to royal palaces — would be the main tourist hub following the ECRL’s operation.
He said Mita expects to attract more than 15,000 tourists from China to Kelantan this year, after around 40 Chinese travel agents and operators committed to promoting the northeast state to its people.
“We are also planning to chart direct flights from China to Sultan Ahmad Shah Airport in Kuantan — a lower-traffic airport which accepts international flights — before transporting them to Kota Baru by road.
“Hopefully, in the future, the ECRL will be our primary mode to commute tourists to the east coast area from the airport,” he said.
“I believe railroad is the best travel mode for tourist. We were informed that the National Museum visitors have doubled since the Mass Rapid Transit Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line (started operation),” he added.
The realigned route will see the rail track diverted to Negri Sembilan from Mentakab in Pahang, bypassing Bentong in Pahang and Gombak in Selangor than previously proposed.
The diversion had saved the government RM21 billion in terms of expensive land procurement in Gombak and 16.3km tunnelling works in Genting Sempah, Pahang.
It also preserves the environment in the area, including the precious Klang Gates Quartz Ridge which is a potential Unesco World Heritage site.
The rail — which was originally planned to stop at Pengkalan Kubor, Kelantan — is expected to have Kota Baru as its final station.
The trailhead remains at Port Klang, Selangor with one station expected to be constructed in Putrajaya.
Meanwhile, Tourism Malaysia DG Datuk Musa Yusof expressed a similar opinion, saying the newly revived ECRL project will “renew” interest in Malaysia as there are various cities now easily accessible with the ECRL.
“The state governments will also have more reasons to upgrade their public facilities which would benefit both locals and tourists.
“It will allow small towns like Jelebu and Kuala Klawang in Negri Sembilan to flourish,” he told TMR.
Although districts like Jelebu and Kuala Klawang are regarded as small towns and quite isolated from the city centres, Musa said there is an untapped potential within these areas.
“They have unique attractions such as organic eco-resorts, several boutique types of accommodations and homestays, heritage museums, the natural Kenaboi Forest Reserve with ‘Lord of the Rings’-type of scenery, waterfalls, as well as local unique cuisines such as dodol and daging salai,” he said.
Both Uzaidi and Musa believe that cooperation between the state governments and private tourism players is vital to revitalise some of the tourist hotspots such as Cherating, Pahang.