‘Art Tourism’ is Malaysia’s unique selling point for VMY 2026, says dance and arts expert

The government must incorporate, and include the arts on a larger scale to help attract tourists to the country in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2026.

Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin said ‘art tourism’ should be leveraged upon by stakeholders, and that this can easily be done as Malaysia, he said, has a unique artistic heritage, thanks to our diverse background.

“Malaysia has a unique artistic heritage to offer the world. Arts and culture should be incorporated as a wider component of tourism. We can market arts through dance, music, theatre, and even eco-tourism,” said Mohamed Ghouse, who is Emeritus Professor of the Performing Arts at University Sains Malaysia’s School of Arts.

“Dance, music, and theatre should be put at the forefront of promoting the country … we should go beyond just selling our beaches, food, and shopping malls.”

Mohamed Ghouse said the arts has a huge potential, and the powers-that-be must understand and value the real significance of the arts as a fundamental component, and an integral element in nation-building.

He said the arts industry, which includes performances, and the sale of artworks and crafts, generates revenue from businesses that support artistic productions and performances, creating employment for various skilled personnel.

“While two years may seem like a short time for the government to leverage on the arts for Visit Malaysia Year 2026, we must start somewhere.”

In tabling Budget 2024 last October, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the government has set a target of 26.1 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2026, with a projected domestic spending of RM97.6 billion.

Anwar said the government had allocated RM350 million to boost tourism promotions and activities to make Malaysia the world’s top tourist destination again. This includes collaborating with the industry to promote tourism activities and events outside the country. He also then said that more than 200 cultural activists would be given help in organising arts and cultural activities.

Mohamed Ghouse said a shift in policy was required to lay down the vision and strategies that will guide the theory and practice of the creative arts.

“It must not just be lip-service. It must get the participation of the local community,” he said.

“Our embassies and tourism offices around the world is a good place to start. You will find a gamelan in every Indonesian embassy around the world, and this sparks curiosity and interest. We should do the same.”

The gamelan refers to the traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra and the set of musical instruments used. It consists primarily of ornate, percussive instruments made of hand-forged metal. The ensemble includes xylophones, gongs, gong-chimes, drums, cymbals, string instruments, and bamboo flutes.

Mohamed Ghouse, who plays several musical instruments, including the violin and gambus, and also performs the Bharatanatyam to both local and international audiences, said investing in the arts for Visit Malaysia Year 2026 will not just develop the sector, including its skilled practitioners, but also generate an appreciation of the arts and culture among the locals.

“We can also organise international conferences on the arts, including on heritage in 2026, to draw people in. I will be more than glad to lend my knowledge and expertise, if the government is keen to listen,” said Mohamed Ghouse, who is also a council member of the National Heritage Council.

Mohamed Ghouse, who just released his latest book titled ‘Dances of Sabah and Sarawak’, said art tourism can also promote eco-tourism and vice versa, especially in states like Sabah and Sarawak.

“These two states are not just rich in flora and fauna, but also offer many traditional dances that not only should be preserved for future generations, but also showcased to the world,” he added.

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