Penang: Finding the Right Balance Between Tourism Development and Authenticity

Penang is one of the most picturesque destinations in Malaysia, delivering its visitors a wealth of authentic and colourful experiences.

The island is a melting pot of Asian cultures due to history. A port from its early days, then a free port during British times, the city attracted all kinds of communities, from Chinese, Indian and Malay to Thai, Burmese, Acehnese and Javanese, Europeans, Arabs and even Armenians.

This peculiar culture, which is particularly visible in the architecture of Georgetown (the capital city) and in Penang’s gastronomy, has been recognised by UNESCO, which turned Penang into a World Heritage Site in 2008.

“We have numerous cultural assets and we now work at improving the tourist’s experience as well as preserving the balance between tourism development and our own citizens’ daily lives. This is a delicate relationship as we want to keep Penang’s authenticity”, explains Ooi Chok Yan, CEO Penang Global Tourism, the State tourism agency.

Among the new initiatives are cycling products, with city bikes now being offered in Georgetown and the creation of cycle lanes. “It takes time, as we also have to deal with the Federal Ministry of Transport. But this is definitely coming!” added Ooi.

Another highlight this year is the creation of a designers’ village, one of the first of its kind in Malaysia. “We are also actively promoting The Habitat, a sustainable eco-friendly attraction on Penang Hill with nature trails with the discovery of wild animals, offering soon a canopy walk and a treetop walk with views embracing the entire island”, said the Penang Global Tourism CEO.