For decades, tourism has been vital to Penang’s economy and also its self-identity. In September, the island will have a unique opportunity to showcase what it knows before representatives from nearly 70 countries.
George Town was selected earlier this year to host the fifth Tourism Promotion Organization for Asia Pacific Forum (TPO), beating many other cities in the region which had lobbied hard for the honour. The forum will be attended by about 200 people, including mayors and government delegates, as well as industry players. Challenges faced will be discussed and dissected, and everyone will get the chance to share their views and experience. Guests will also be brought on a technical tour of George Town’s tourist attractions.
The TPO is an international tourism organisation that aims to build networks between cities around the world and develop the tourism industry in the Asia Pacific region; 68 cities around the world count themselves as members, along with 32 industry players. Malaysia has five city representatives in the TPO: Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu, Malacca, Kota Bharu and, of course, George Town.
Cities that have hosted the TPO forum in the past include Hangzhou, China; Busan, Korea (where the TPO is based) and Vladivostok, Russia.
“We have been actively involved with the TPO since 2002, when we attended the first TPO general assembly in Busan,” said Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) president Patahiyah Ismail. “We also participated in most of the TPO’s forums and general assemblies, presenting papers and joining in dialogue sessions with other TPO members.”
Its active participation was an important factor in the TPO eventually selecting George Town as the next forum host. Another was its advertising; the MPPP’s print advertisement and brochures promoting Penang to other countries were well-received, leading the TPO to award it two Best Print Advertisement awards and one Best Brochure Award. And when TPO deputy secretary-general Sun-Jae Park flew to Penang in early March for an inspection before making his final decision, the city awed him. “He was so impressed,” said a pleased Patahiyah.
Patahiyah marked his visit to the Friendship Park as a particular highlight. Located in front of City Bayview Hotel in the city, the park is an opportunity for visiting mayors to plant a tree (specifically, the Variegated Bucida) to mark their visit. It’s a simple enough idea, but when Patahiyah explained the concept to Park, he asked if they could rename it the “TPO Friendship Park”. (After a quick phone call to the Chief Minister, the MPPP said okay.) In April, Park presented a paper on Penang to a TPO executive meeting, and it was decided that every TPO city should have its own Friendship Park.“Now everyone is copying Penang!” Patahiyah said with an amazed laugh. “It’s also a good opportunity for Penang to show our commitment towards becoming a cleaner, greener city.”
Promotion and branding exercises for the event are already underway. In April, MPPP provided trishaws with free umbrellas bearing the Penang TPO forum logo, and all MPPP correspondences will feature the TPO logo on their letterheads until the end of the year. “We also launched our website recently. We are in discussions with the paramotor people; we want them to fly on July 1 and land in Esplanade with the TPO, MPPP and state flags.” Patahiyah also resisted the Chief Minister’s suggestion that they hire an event organiser. “Everything is done in-house,” she said proudly. “We are progressing very well. From time to time we report to Busan and they are happy with our preparations. We promise the forum will be of international standard.”
Patahiyah has high hopes for the forum, seeing it as a chance for mayors in the region to share best practices with Penang, and to further promote the island to an international audience of peers. “Directly and indirectly, it will promote Penang onto the Asia Pacific map, not only in the tourism sector but also where our city management, heritage and culture are concerned. Not to mention food!”
The Fifth TPO Forum will be held at Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa from September 17-20 this year. More information can be found at www.penangtpo.com