Modernising outdated laws and introducing incentives to move the industry forward should be top priorities for the new Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, said the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta).

Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said these fundamentals are necessary to promote a healthier tourism industry.

Tan’s comment came in light of the recent appointment of Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi and Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik as the Minister and Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, respectively.

Tan, who lauded the appointment of both officials, said Matta is ready to cooperate with the new ministry to achieve tourism targets and iron out pressing tourism issues such as enforcement against illegal and unlicensed operators.

“We are glad the new Government recognised the importance of tourism in generating foreign exchange, creating jobs and stimulating the economy,” he said.

Data from Matta showed that 25.95 million foreign visitors spent RM82.1bil in Malaysia and domestic visitors spent another RM83.1bil within the country last year.

“To attract more visitors, the Ministry must step up on digital marketing, collaborate actively with industry bodies such as Matta in overseas promotions, abolish the counter-productive tourism tax, and provide incentives to upgrade the quality of tourism vehicles that cater to high-spending tourists,” Tan said.

He added that Mohamaddin’s appointment augurs well for rural tourism in general and the east coast of Sabah. The new minister is Member of Parliament for Silam in Sabah.

Located between Tawau and Sandakan, Silam is a paradise for hiking, snorkelling and bird watching.

“Silam’s ecotourism potential should be unlocked and its natural resources shared with upmarket tourists, allowing local residents to treasure and benefit from its natural environment,” said Tan.

Tan also called for the Government to engage with foreign government organisations to lift travel advisories against visiting the east coast of Sabah.