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Impact of tourism on penang island tourism essay

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The students of International Tourism and Hospitality Management from SEGi University College went on a case study research at Penang Island from the 12th November to the 15th November. In these 3 three days and two nights study, the students managed to interviewed as many as 60 local residents of the state to probe and investigate on the impact of tourism towards Penang Island.

Literature Review- Penang Island, A Place for Tourism and Heritage!

The main reason why our study trip chose Penang Island is because of the historical sites and heritage places. Penang incorporates modernity with a touch of traditions and old world charm that is sure to captivates the heart of many tourists and travelers alike. With George Town which was recently listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site makes visiting Penang an even more eventful trip. Penang also entices the tourists with its rich and plentiful scrumptious cuisines and mouth-watering food. Home to the Baba Nyonya descendants, this beautiful state is also rich with cultures and traditions all living harmoniously under the one same roof!

Penang is located at the Northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca. It is the second smallest state in Malaysia right after Perlis. The name Penang is actually derived from a tree called Pokok Pinang that is widely found along the sea side of Penang Island. Generally the state of Penang could be sub divided into two geographies; the Penang Island and also the Seberang Perai. Penang which is widely made out of hilly topography has a limited low land area for development hence the land reclamation project near the coastal area.

In an average day, the temperature at this place varies from 27 degree Celsius to 30 degree during the day time while the night time promises a temperature from 22 degree Celsius to 24. Since Malaysia is located on the Equator line, this place has a very high humidity and the average annual rainfall is approximately 2670 mm.

All in all, the students of ITHM find that Penang Island is indeed filled with abundant of cultures and traditions that many other places in Malaysia is definitely lack off. The culture and heritage sites at these beautiful places are still intact and maintained to perfection. Tourism undeniably has change the way of life for the Penangites vastly.

Here I enclosed in the Itinerary of the whole 3D2N study trip of ITHM students. (*Refer to Appendix IV)


Questionnaire- Method of Data Collection

During the fieldtrip to Penang on the month of November, the students of ITHM manage to compile a total of 60 pieces of questionnaires per group on the impacts of tourism on Penang Island. Local residents of Penang were informed of the survey and requested to answer 10 simple questions regarding on the issue.

The questionnaire consisted of 10 questions divided into three parts: Impacts of tourism on local environment, impact of tourism on local people- socio-cultural, and impact of tourism on local economy. The answers to the questions are in the form of ‘ Yes or No’ and could be ticked in boxes.

A total of 60 respondents were found and they agreed wholeheartedly to help us out on the mission to uncover the facts about tourism in Penang. Of the 60 respondents, the highest number of responses agreed that Tourism Penang has indeed brought about positive feedback on the economics of the state. Even though some respondents had difficulty understanding the questions given, but we manage to sort it out by slowly explaining to them on what the questions are all about.

The analysis of the response was done in two ways. We divided our group member into two units, where one unit is assigned to complete the (i) 30 pieces of questionnaire by asking local hawker peoples opinion, whereas the remaining (ii) 30 pieces are distributed among the local residents whom are not working at the current moment. Nonetheless all of whom answered the questionnaire were from the local people of Penang Island.


Tourism Development- Infrastructures

Unlike any other states in Malaysia, Penang is labelled as one of the leading destination in the country today and many tourists who visited Malaysia would definitely anticipate the visit to this very heritage site. The main reason why Penang has been where it is today is mainly because it also has a better and more developed infrastructure than most of the other places in the country.

Generally there are two stadiums located at Penang for the convenience of the locals as well as to attract tourists and outsiders to take part in any sports event over here. The City Stadium or more commonly known as Stadium Bandaraya Pulau Pinang is the first and oldest stadium which is still in use up till today. It was built by the British in 1932 and ever since then had become a popular spot for any football matches. The other stadium mentioned is the Penang State Stadium. This newly completed stadium back at the year 2000 has a capacity of 40, 000 spectators.

The next cutting edge design infrastructure built in Penang is none other than the Geodesic Dome located at Komtar.  This progressive and advance looking dome is a multipurpose hall used for official functions, performances, state’s events and many other event purposes. The design of this dome comes from the concept study by R. Buckminster Fuller who is the master mind behind this partial-spherical structure. The main entrance to this dome is through the level five roof top which only makes it even more appealing to the tourists and visitors.

In terms of highways infrastructure, Penang is certainly quite commendable as well. Highways such as the Bayan Lepas Elevated Highway, Jelutong Expressway and Butterworth Outer Ring Road are the few expressways constructed for the convenience of the automobile users. And let us not forget about the advanced-looking Penang international airport. The Penang International Airport (PEN) is the main airport for the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia. At present, the airlines flying to the Penang International Airport includes AirAsia, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Firefly, Jetstar Asia, China Southern Airlines, Kartika Airlines, Lion Air, Malaysia Airlines, Silkair, Singapore Airlines, Sriwijaya Air, Thai Airways and Tiger Airways. This airport is also known as the fourth biggest airport in Malaysia after KLIA, Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Kuching International Airport. It has also been awarded as the Airport of the Year for 2009 Frost and Sullivan Asia Pacific Aerospace and Defence for airports for the category of below 15-million-passenger.

Economic Impact of Tourism

The main economic development in Penang would most certainly relies on the tourism sector as it turns out that this sector yield major contribution towards the income and financial growth of the state. Based on the record by the Tourism Ministry, Penang has recorded a 40 per cent increase in the number of international tourist arrivals between January and June this year (2010). There were 405, 932 tourists up till June, as compared to 244, 146 in the same period last year. Of the tourist arrivals, Indonesians topped the list at over 92, 000, followed by Singaporeans (51, 392), China (16, 000), Australia, Japan, Latin America and India (12, 000 each), United States (10, 000) and Middle East countries (1, 360).

The economic benefits of tourism were readily acknowledged by research participants in this study. Nearly everyone interviewed agreed that tourism led to the creation of jobs and it somewhat turns out to be the main source of income for most of the family as well. Residents of the communities commented that tourism often brings about positive feedbacks on the economics of the state and the standard of living too. A resident of the local neighbouring town said that, “ Without tourism, the economy would be stagnant.” Another resident also noted, “ With the existence of tourism in Penang, we get to enjoy many top notch facilities and infrastructures such as the better public transportation system and the Penang stadium.” For some there was a sense of certainty about the likelihood of tourism flourishing in this state. With so many demands from tourists all over the world, regardless of domestic or international, many believed that tourism was expected to take place whether or not local residents desired it.

The Swettenham Cruise Terminal which was recently redevelopment has added an extra entry point into the island. Based on the statistic from Penang Economics Monthly April 2010 Issue 4. 10, it states that in year 2009, a total of 680, 000 cruise passengers are recorded to have arrived in Penang. It has been estimated that this year at least 890, 000 numbers of tourists will turn up. “ The average cruise passenger spends anywhere between US$85 (rm280) to US$115 (rm350) a day when they come on land. That’s not bad considering they are in Penang for less than 12 hours. Penang’s the perfect destination for cruise passengers with limited time, the minute they step off the pier, they’re already in a World Heritage Site,” said Battistotti, PGT director, who is also the chairman of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (Penang chapter) and the General Manager of G Hotel.

Another factor that contributes to Penang’s thriving economic from the tourism sector is no doubt the Tourism Malaysia’s active ‘ courtship’ of the Middle Eastern market. It has been clear that 11th September incidence is a significant factor influencing the increase of Middle Eastern tourist arrivals to Malaysia. There are however other factors such as tourist expenses in Malaysia, tourist income, travelling expenses and the standard of living in this country that affect vastly on the number of tourists arrivals as well. Based on the work done by Norlida Hanim Mohd Salleh (2010, pp. 37-52), she mention that, “ The importance of the Middle East tourists to the Malaysian tourism industry can be viewed from several indicators such as number of tourist arrivals, tourism receipts, the average length of stay and potential of future tourism market.” She also mentioned that the average spending of the Middle Easterners have a higher purchasing power than other tourists over here. According to the case study, the average expenditure of the Middle Easterners was RM3, 503 during the year 2003 whereas tourists from other places only spent RM2, 013.

In general, tourism has a variety of economic impact on the Penang Island. All these could be explained using the Multiplier Effects Theory. From the work done by Daniel J. Stynes (1997, pp. 11-14), he mentioned that;

The most direct effects occur within the primary tourism sectors –lodging, restaurants, transportation, amusements, and retail trade. Through secondary effects, tourism affects most sectors of the economy… The study might use a sales multiplier of 2. 0 to indicate that each dollar of direct sales generates another dollar in secondary sales in this region.

This clearly shows us that tourism the main the effect of this Multiplier theory where with tourism it brings about the development of other industries as well such as restaurants, shopping malls, and theme parks.

However there are still numerous negative impacts of tourism for Penang Island. For one, a country that relies on tourism industry alone as their main source of revenue could be risky and dangerous. Economic dependence should always be versatile and all-rounded in order for a state to prosper and flourish. This is because tourism business is very seasonal. During peak season, tourist arrivals will increase tremendously especially during the year end period. Conversely the number of tourist will dropped drastically during off-peak season. And this can post immerse danger to the state’s wellbeing as it might create a high rate of unemployment.

Environment Impacts of Tourism

It is important to understand that although tourism has boosted the economics of Penang vastly but one shall never forget on the value of the environment and natural habitat of the very island. For what we know, land is a very scarce resource in Penang Island. This is mainly due to the fact that Penang is largely made up of hilly topography and most of the low land area has already been accommodated and developed.

Based on the research done by Ngai Weng Chan (1998, pp: 305-318), he also mentioned that the efforts at industrialization and the development of other economic sectors had bring about the improvement of the state’s urbanization. Unfortunately this had also caused greater pressure on the land usage. As a result, the Government act upon on the land reclamation as a solution but it is still not enough to satisfy the high demand for land in the island. At present, many developers have already resort to the remaining hill land and also the reclamation area on the island for their next huge projects. Example of such project would be the Waterfront City Project (*refer to appendix I), which represents one of the highest proportions of leisure-based services anywhere in South East Asia. Promising as it may seem, this project which is to be built on the 338 acres of reclaimed land along Penang’s eastern coastline will majorly impact on the condition and status of the island’s wellbeing. To begin with, placing fill in a reclamation area could disturb the water quality of the adjoining sea as well as threatening the flourishing existence of fish stocks and habitats found in coastal seas and connecting lochs and lagoons.

Another example of project built without the heed and consideration of the environmental issues would be the Tanjung Bungah suburb which is situated between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi. This village was built at the hill land areas which could post many dangers to the environment and also on the inhabitants over there. Based on the journal written by Adrian M. Steinberg (2010, pp. 318-340), he mentioned that, “ There are many environment risk by project at hill site areas in Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi.” Tanjung Bungah used to be a peaceful village only lodged by small groups of families and fishermen. However over the years, many huge corporate chose this very spot to build commercial buildings for tourism purposes. Example of these recreational structures includes the Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque and also the Penang Water Sport Centres. Hence, the quality of the sea water deteriorates due to the discharge of raw sewage and the resulting pollution makes it a breeding ground for jelly fish. As a result, the sea all along the northern belt is no longer suitable for swimming anymore.

Penang Hill which is another famous tourist destination spot is an example of tourism development at hill land area. Located high above the land, Penang Hill is perfect as a holiday sanctuary due to the breezy and cooler environment. The state Government permitted this development because it brings forth higher monetary and fiscal policy to the state’s economy. Based on another case study by Ngai Weng Chan (1998, pp. 14-27), he mentioned that, “ Massive hill development, especially the clearing of vegetation and the cutting of hill slopes will bring about increased and accelerated run-off, increased soil erosion and a high probability of landslips and landslides. In the event of heavy rainfall, such as that which coincided with Tropical Storm Ryan on 18 September 1995, landslips and landslides would occur. In fact, a total of about 60 landslides were reported along roads on Penang Hill and its vicinity after the heavy rainfall during the above storm.” This clearly shows that without a proper planning and preparation, many inadvertent events might occur.

Paya Terubong used to be a predominantly agriculture area. As the years gone by, it slowly turns into a working-class neighbourhood in the central part of Penang Island. Based on a case study by Ngai Weng Chan (1998, pp. 14-27), he found that there is a total of 60 landslides reported along the roads of Penang Hill after the destructive Tropical Storm Ryan which happened back at 18 September 1995. Landslides not only harm the residents of an area but, in fact, it post tremendous dangers to motorists as well. In addition, it might pollute the river and in long-term run, may results in flood at low land area. The massive expansion project at Paya Terubong is the most apparent example of hill land development at Penang which is rather an impulsive and foolish action. The project which mostly accentuate on housing, infrastructure and a new township is actually one of the main tourist attraction at Penang Island at current. According to the Malaysian Law however, hill land with slopes of more than 20 degrees should be safeguard and conserved in its natural state, generally as a forest reserves. Ngai also stated in his case study that the Paya Terubong hill land development is a major failure of the state island by saying, “ According to the Consumer Association of Penang (in its April 1996 issue), the Paya Terubong housing project is an invitation to a disaster, possibly comparing the Majestic Heights as similar to the Highland Towers which collapsed in 1993. Soon after this report, the extensive mudflows occurred in early May 1996. Chan (1997) has demonstrated how rapid development on the hill slopes of the Paya Terubong valley in Penang has given rise to landslides, mudflows, sedimentation of rivers and downstream flooding.” (*refer to Appendix II)

Culture and Heritage Impacts of Tourism

Even though the official religion of the country and state is Islam, the residents in Penang are all given the freedom and rights to follow on their personal beliefs. Buddhism is still the main religion over here. As such, the Peranakan or more commonly known as the Baba Nyonyas made 5% out of the 2 million residents of Penang. The Baba Nyonya is actually a descendent of the Chinese immigrants who partially adopt Malay customs with a touch of Chinese as well. This made the Penang Island rich with an abundant of cultures and traditions. For Penang Global Tourism’s (PGT) new managing director Ooi Geok Ling, she exclaimed that if she were to describe Penang as a dish, she would go for the Rojak;

“ All the individual fruits and veggies retain their individualism, and the rojak sauce brings everything together. This is what makes Penang so unique, our diversity and our pride in being Penangites.”

This clearly indicates that Penang has a presence of people from so many ethnicities and religions living together in harmony. All these could be reflected in the many festivities that are being celebrated throughout the year, ranging from the Chinese New Year to the Indian Festival, Thaipusam. Besides, Pesta Pulau Penang which is an annual carnival event makes the city all vibrant and vivacious.

Besides that, Penang is also famous with the Dragon Boat Festival. Since 1979, it has been a culture to hold the International Dragon Boat Festival over the Teluk Bahang Dam. Besides attracting international tourists during the period of this event, this amazing festival also strengthens and tightens the bonds between the each and every citizen. Another remarkable festival held yearly over this state would none other be the Chingay Festival. This interesting event which all started back at 1919 to celebrate on the birthday of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy displays a wonderful act of skill in the form of a procession. (*refer to Appendix III)

George Town’s entry into the Unesco World Heritage Sites listing is a big recognition of Penang’s unique history. This big recognition was declared back at July 2008. George Town which was one if the first British colonies to be established back many years ago is indeed filled with many historical sites. Besides that, Penang is also famous for many other historical sites that some even dated back at centuries ago. All these factors contributed to the rising numbers of tourist arrivals into the state regardless of domestic or non-domestic.


After all the investigations done on the impact of tourism on Penang Island, we found that tourism has indefinitely brought about many changes to the used-to-be-peaceful island. The most apparent changes would definitely be on the environment of the island. Noted as one of the best and most relaxing destination in Malaysia, Penang was once a very serene and calming place to holiday at. Currently however, many unplanned and unorganized development had cause many environment degradation.

In terms of state’s economic, there is no doubt that tourism plays a major role in sustaining the monetary of the country. Tourism brings positive impact on economy by providing more job employment for the local peoples.

With proper action and care from the Government and the residents of the state. Penang will definitely continue to flourish and blossom into a more majestic and magnificent state in Malaysia!

Thanks for your opinion!
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