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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bright future for historic city

Bold, new plans aim to propel Malacca to greater heights

It is the birthplace of our country’s urban society. And, just as it did over 600 years ago, Malacca today is still continuing to attract attention from travellers the world over, making it our most endearing tourist magnet.

In three days’ time on April 15, Malacca city will celebrate its 19th anniversary of being declared a “Historical City” by the federal government.

In conjunction with this, we pay tribute to the country’s oldest settlement by shining the spotlight on its thrust to be a modern force, its endeavour to preserve the past and its goal to be as relevant to the nation and the world today as it was at the height of its glory.

Spearheaded by its Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, Malacca has, over the past decade, been aggressively moving towards its target of being a fully developed state by 2010.

As a result, it recently recorded the highest growth among all states in the country at 6.1 per cent and managed to increase its tourist arrivals by one million a year.

It’s not resting on its laurels. To keep the economy on the boil and reinforce its appeal as an international destination, the state has put in place several plans. Here are some of them ….

Embracing the influx

Between 2004 and 2006, Malacca’s tourist arrivals increased from four million to 5.09 million and this year, the visitation is envisaged to rise to 6.8 million.

According to the state government, Malacca’s appeal lies in the fact that it offers something for everybody, being a place of history not only for local Malays, Chinese and Indians but also for former colonial powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and British.

Statistics concur, showing the number of foreign tourists, particularly from Holland and the United Kingdom, to be on a steady rise.

To cope with the influx, many new hotels have mushroomed in recent years in response to the state’s call for its hospitality industry to make a greater impact.

Over the next two years, another 675 rooms are expected to be added to the existing leisure stock of 6,700 rooms.

Among the establishments that have already made their presence felt in the city centre are the five-star Holiday Inn, Legacy, Renaissance and Equatorial hotels, while in districts such as Alor Gajah, resort concepts in the vein of A’Famosa Resort have become pull factors for those wanting to escape back to nature.

Preserving the past

In addition to well-known protected heritage sites such as the old Dutch Square and the Portuguese A’Famosa fortress, the city has recently taken steps to revitalise its ever popular Jonker Street – or Jalan Hang Jebat – by giving it a much-needed facelift.

Dating back to the 17th century, this bazaar of antique shoplots represents one of the oldest (albeit smallest) Chinatowns in the world and is a major tourist attraction for the historical city.

After years of being overlooked which led to its dereliction, the focus to refresh the area’s historical face while giving its infrastructure a new lease of life has brought with it a vibrant energy that makes it more upmarket, cleaner and more appealing to foreign visitors.

Another important ongoing development is the rejuvenation of the Malacca River, which once served as the arterial lifeline of teh city.

The RM320 million beauti- fication project will turn the river into a major tourist draw complete with vibrant riverbank walkways, commercial and retail outlets as well as river boat tours.

The state is also expected to generate RM1 billion from spin off projects that will take place along the historic riverfront.

The modern touch To be as relevant to the future as it was important to the country’s past, Malacca has also acknowledged that it must give itself a modern look. Thus, its ambitious plan to establish an urban mass transport facility serviced by Southeast Asia’s first aerorail system.

By 2012, a suspended track will be added to the Malaccan skyline to allow commuters as well as tourists to smoothly commute in and out of the city centre and visit all its major attractions.

The RM586 million project, to be developed by Pyramid Express Sdn Bhd, has already been hailed for its cost effective concept – compared with the RM160 million per kilometre cost spent on Kuala Lumpur’s LRT system, Malacca’s version will cost RM57.6 million per kilometre.

Work on the 18.3km aerorail line is expected to start sometime next year and involve the development of 10 stations, each attached to a four-star hotel.

In addition to the aerorail, the state is also giving its Batu Berendam Airport a RM120 million upgrade so it can cater to larger aircrafts and more travellers.

Of the cost, 10 per cent or RM12 million is understood to be for land reclamation, 30 per cent or RM35 million for the expansion of the airstrip, 12 per cent or RM14 million for a new control tower and 20 per cent or RM24 million for a new landing terminal and aerobridge.

The state hopes that the improvements will qualify it as an international airport, which would enable the world’s tourists to fly directly into Malacca.

By New Straits Times (by Chris Prasad)

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