No mention of theme parks, shoppping malls, sky walks, cable cars, 18-hole golf resorts – some of the things that the state government believes will draw more tourists to Penang.
Instead, the CNN write-up focuses on the arts, culture, underground music, an indigenous plant, artisans, unique religious festivals and Balik Pulau’s natural charm.
Indeed, it is mainly the intangible heritage that makes Penang such a compelling and fascinating place to visit. This is apart from the street food and heritage setting, which the report notes is being affected by gentrification.
And have we ever thought that a time will come when there are too many tourists crowding the island and making life difficult for local residents? We saw that in Penang over the recent festive season, when many Penangites chose to remain at home out of fear of congested roads. (In some streets around Komtar, in the evenings over the public holidays, traffic actually seemed lighter than usual; perhaps many locals were staying at home.)
Some European cities are already complaining of too many tourists. “Victims of their own success,” as they might say here. As the report in the New Zealand Listener says:
Our current tourist season should be a time for serious reflection for the industry, Government and residents. How many visitors are too many? To what extent are we prepared to shift from the tradition of free access to the outdoors to a regime of capped numbers and fees? Where might such limits be needed? Are our tourists paying the true price of the “freedom” and natural experience we invite them to enjoy, given the impact they have? And at what point might their freedom affect those of us for whom this country is a deeply loved home?
None of these questions is simple. And growth begets growth. As tourist numbers have risen, so too have the numbers of businesses reliant on that growth, which makes talk of new charges or limits challenging.
Tourism has the power to transform rundown regions and revitalise towns – that’s what it did to Kaikoura before the earthquake, and will surely do again. But, as Barcelona has found, it can also generate a backlash from those who feel their homes have been invaded.