2015 is the Year of Festivals for Malaysia. The tagline, “Endless Celebrations”, showcases Malaysia as a tourist destination with bountiful and diverse cultures and festivities.
The Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board (popularly known as Tourism Malaysia) under the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism is tasked to promote Malaysia domestically and internationally. One of the functions of Tourism Malaysia is to organise effective promotional tourism programmes. One hundred fifty-one festivals and events are listed in the Tourism Malaysia calendar for 2015 (Figure 1).
The number of tourism events peaked from April-May and dipped in July, slowing down towards the end of the year (Figure 1). Tourism Malaysia has covered and advertised their events in every state, albeit the distribution frequency is not even among all states. The Federal Territories (KL, Putrajaya and Labuan), where the commercial and administrative capitals are located, receive the most event coverage, while Malacca and Perak have only one event each in 2015. Penang has 10 events carried in the official Tourism Malaysia calendar.
The number of events coordinated by the respective states is higher than the ones organised by Tourism Malaysia (Table 1), despite many events overlapping in both state and Tourism Malaysia calendars. This indicates the important role played by the respective state tourism boards in developing the tourism sector in their own states; they organise extra events for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike. Penang has the most events in February, coinciding with the many ethnic Chinese cultural and religious celebrations.
 Malaysia hotel guests by state 2013/2014, Tourism Malaysia.
Penang, as one of the most favourite and most visited tourist destinations in Malaysia, always offers many interesting and diverse types of cultural, art and modern festivals and events throughout the year. In 2014, 6.85 million 1 local and foreign tourists made a visit to Penang, and some of them might have been attracted to certain festivals. Most of the festivals were held in Penang with the direct or indirect support of the Penang State Tourism Development Office or/ and Penang Global Tourism. As many as 59 events and activities are listed in the Penang Tourism Calendar of Events 2015 2; a significant number of them are annually held festivals.
Table 2 summarises the statistical numbers of selected festive events in terms of number of visits and media reports. Figures 3 and 4 provide the number of licences issued from MBPP and MPSP during some festive events.
One of the largest festivals in the state, George Town Festival (GTF) was inaugurated in 2010; this year marked its sixth year. It has reached a new peak in its attendance number (Table 2). In a 2014 survey, 59.2% Malaysian and 52.6% international GTF participants/patrons came to visit Penang purposely for GTF.
GTF 2015 saw the state government increase fund allocations progressively from RM400,000 in 2010 to RM3.5mil in 2015, reflecting the state government’s support in arts and cultural festivals.
GTF’s expenditure is mainly in three core areas: Production, Marketing and Administration. About RM3.1mil and RM4.1mil were spent in total for year 2014 and 2015, respectively. Job opportunities, whether full-time or parttime, were also created; about 13.6% of total expenditure was spent on hiring 3. A further RM750,278.42 was spent to cover the cost of local performers’ fees and per diems, and grants given to local programmes. This represents approximately 29.3% of the overall programme expenses.
In another survey, among the tourist activities in Penang engaged by visitors in 2014 4, as many as 21.5% visitors rated it essential to attend traditional cultural performances/concerts/theatres, while 35.8% thought it was a high priority for them to take part. The growing influence and appreciation of the arts and traditional and cultural festivals is a positive sign for the development of the tourism sector in Penang; it brings more depth and impression for travellers, hence better establishing Penang’s reputation as a top tourist destination in the world.
For major traditional festival celebrations such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Thaipusam, Nine Emperor Gods Festival and Deepavali, local people tend to be involved more than tourists. Hence, the number of licences issued by MBPP and MPSP would serve as a good indicator for the sentiment and mood for the respective festivals (Figures 3 and 4). From 2008-2014, the number of temporary licenses intended for certain festivals experienced gradual increase (Thaipusam and Chinese New Year), or fluctuated (Ramadan and Deepavali) on the island (Figure 3).
- Malaysia hotel guests by state 2013/2014, Tourism Malaysia.
- For the dates and details of the events, please follow this link: www.visitpenang.gov.my/ download2/calendar-of-event-2015.pdf.
- George Town Festival, 2015.
- Penang Tourists Survey, 2014, Penang Global Tourism.
- “Hot air balloon fest draws huge crowds”, The Star, February 23, 2015 (URL: www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/02/23/Hot-air-balloon-fest-draws-huge-crowds/).
- “Event celebrates the tasty ritual food of Malaysian communities”, The Star, July 5, 2015 (URL: www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/07/05/Event-celebrates-the-tasty-ritual-food-of-Malaysiancommunities/).
- M. Sivanantha Sharma, “Paying homage to St Anne”, The Star, July 28, 2015 (URL: www.thestar.com.my/Metro/Community/2015/07/28/Paying-homage-to-St-Anne-Pilgrims-join-candlelightprocession-along-3km-journey-in-Bukit-Mertajam/).
Visitors, domestic and foreign alike, who participated in any festival held in Penang, would require a place to stay. Table 3 shows that Penang hosted more tourists in 2014 than in the previous year. The extent of increase surpasses the national average as well as KL’s; the latter acts as the gateway for most tourists to Malaysia. Malacca, which is another city in Malaysia inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, instead experienced a reduction in the number of foreign hotel guests in 2014. In contrast, just within one year, Penang recorded an increase of 56.6% or 1.17 million foreign tourists. The exciting line-up of festivals and events held throughout the year must have had a desirable effect in attracting more tourists to Penang during the Year of Festivals.