Langkawi U-turn: From cheap booze and bikini-clad sun bathers to being halal-compliant?

ONE can be forgiven for thinking that Tourism Arts and Culture (MOTAC) deputy minister Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan hails from PAS. Khairul Firdaus is in fact from Sabah representing the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition.

The Batu Sapi MP in a reply to a question from DAP lawmaker Teresa Kok in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday (June 24) shocked the legislature when he said that MOTAC planned to promote holiday resort Langkawi as a Muslim destination.

That is the kind of statement that is more likely to come from a PAS leader – surely not someone from the Madani government. To paraphrase one would not be surprised if Kedah Menteri Besar who is also the state’s PAS deputy commissioner were to articulate such statement.

Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan (Image credit: Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia)

“As we recognise that Langkawi may face challenges competing with other islands in the region, the ministry’s strategy is to promote the unique attractions of different islands by ensuring that each has distinctive tourism characteristics,” he was reported as saying in the Lower House.

For the longest time, millions of tourists have flocked to the international island resort, drawn by its picturesque beaches, awe-inspiring corals, lush greenery and attractions like cable car rides to Gunung Machinchang and the UNESCO Global Geopark.

Booze-free Langkawi

An added advantage of Langkawi is its duty-free status since 1987. For tourists, both local and foreign, that translates to cheap liquor (limited to one-litre  per visitor) and tobacco products.

And for the longest time, nobody would bat an eyelid if tourists were to get sloshed with cheap booze so long as they observe proper decorum and do not break any indecency laws.

Speaking of decency, it’s also not unusual to see tourists in Langkawi soaking in the sun dressed in skimpy outfits, just as one would find in any other tropical resort around the world with plenty of sunshine.

So, if MOTAC has its way, does that mean that booze will be taken off the shelves if not faced with strict sales conditions? Will tourists in bikinis lying on lawn chairs on the beach sipping margaritas be a thing of the past in Langkawi?


Are nightclubs on the island going to be shuttered? What about massage centres and spas? What is there to R&R (rest and relax) when visitors cannot even get a decent massage or spa or do a little socialising over drinks in a bar?

For now, MOTAC has not issued any guidelines on what constitutes a “Muslim destination”.

But it should bear in mind that any drastic departure from the current framework will drive tourists away – not just to Langkawi – but to Malaysia in general.

We need to be mindful that the gross value-added tourism industries (GVATI) in 2022 totalled RM251.5 bil or about 14.0% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Even deeply-conservative and oil-rich Saudi Arabia has hosted concerts by A-listers such as Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, DJ Khaled and even heavy metal band Metallica to draw tourists.

Malaysia should be casting its net far and wide to draw more tourists from across the world to showcase its myriad of attractions as opposed to limiting its scope which will only cap its tourists arrivals.

After all, Langkawi is already losing out in terms of competitiveness to the Thai southern city of Hatyai with many Malaysians preferring to cross the border in view of cost differentials in terms of transportation, accommodation and food between both tourist destinations.

The country’s tourism industry thrives on its ability to offer something for everyone. MOTACC needs to navigate this path carefully by ensuring that any initiatives enhance rather than restrict its tourism potential on the world stage.

Blindly pandering to the right is surely not the right move to make. –  June 25, 2024

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