Penang pulls out all stops to woo domestic tourists

Forest bathing at The Habitat Penang Hill

Penang’s tourism scene is springing back to life, in part thanks to efforts by the state government and tourism industry partners to boost domestic tourism while the border remains closed to foreign tourists.

At The Habitat Penang Hill, an eco-tourism hotspot in Penang, visitor numbers have bounced back to “near normal”, with more than 90 per cent visitorship comprising locals and expatriates living and working in Malaysia, shared its managing director Allen Tan.

Forest bathing is among The Habitat Penang Hill’s new offerings introduced to help guests destress

The Habitat Penang Hill has also recently introduced several new offerings, including Forest Bathing, a guided three-hour programme by a resident naturalist which helps participants destress and reconnect with nature by partaking in a series of breathing exercises in the rainforest.

Tan shared the programme was popular and timely with working people and those who had been cooped up at home for almost three months during the movement control order (MCO) period.

Amid its closure during the MCO, The Habitat Penang Hill conducted free virtual tours to stay top of mind. Down the road, Tan has in mind to create more virtual tours and to monetise them. Plans to set up an online retail store is underway too. He shared: “We intend to Covid-proof our business in the event of any unforeseen, future lockdowns that might happen.”

Kampung Agong, located on the mainland in Seberang Perai, is a community-based tourist attraction developed by the villagers themselves within their hometown. The place is packed with photo opportunities, such as giant swings resembling bird’s nests and a faux grand piano seated amidst miles of paddy fields. Its photogenic landscape is what drives visitors from all across the country here, shared its spokesperson, Nur Adlini Muhamad Khidir.

Instagrammable spots like this giant bird’s nest structure make up Kampung Agong’s magnetic pull

The attraction draws more than 500 visitors on weekends, made up mainly of families and friend groups coming from all over the peninsular and Penang Island by car.

The villagers had recently built a trio of village houses to accommodate guests on overnight stays to give them a taste of village living – and locals have been so taken with the idea that forward bookings are full on all weekends through end-September, shared Nur Adlini.

Another new attraction in Penang that has gained traction among locals is The Penang International Container Art Festival which runs till year-end.

Here, five shipping container art installations – the handiwork of local and foreign artists – are spread across George Town, Jelutong, and Balik Pulau on the island, as well as Butterworth and Batu Kawan on the mainland.

Malaysian Harmony Tour & Travel product planner, May Chiong, shared that the company has seen strong demand for Penang out of Kuala Lumpur, especially from the family segment looking for short weekend getaways, and that beach stays were selling well.

She said millennials travelling with like-minded friends from Kuala Lumpur were also attracted to the destination for short breaks as there were many Instagrammable-worthy places of interest to them.

Chiong was one of 19 outbound tour operators from the Klang Valley recently hosted by Penang Global Tourism (PGT) and Penang state exco for tourism development, arts, culture and heritage on a four-day familiarisation trip to Penang aimed at showcasing the state’s offerings.

PGT CEO, Ooi Chok Yan, said: “Many relate Penang to good food and its UNESCO George Town heritage status, but we wanted to showcase to agents that there is more to Penang than just that.”

Yeoh Soon Hin, state tourism, arts, culture and heritage committee chairman, shared: “Through this familiarisation trip, we hope to instil the perception that even local destinations can be as competitive as overseas ones, and that you do not have to go far to have a holiday.”

Last month, PGT also launched Penang Travel Deals, featuring deals on hotels, attractions and tour packages, as part of efforts to woo Malaysians to the state and help the local economy recover.

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