Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA)

A passionate development specialist and author of over 100 publications, who is highly experienced in offering his consultancy to various international organisations ranging from natural resources to sustainability issues, Dr Hezri Adnan now deploys his vast experience into research on green economy and policy advocacy into practise in Langkawi, populated by over 111,500 people.

You worked previously with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia as its senior director of research. How has your experience help you in spearheading LADA?

We were in the business of listening to different views at ISIS and coming out with policies and solutions. With LADA, I am now on the other side of the court but still listening to what the community and industry players have to say. My first six months on the job was to understand the issues and challenges they faced, synthesise and package them accordingly. Essentially, I do not have to wait for the government to act as I am part of that process now.

The difference between ISIS and LADA is huge as the reality of managing or running in an environment like this can be critical at times and with so many vested interests of the industry to consider. In order to move forward, we established some ground rules of no moaning and groaning in our discussions with its industry players from the various sectors. Instead, we have been focussing on finding solutions collectively with the tourism players here. On the commercial side, we had to give some electric shocks to Langkawi’s economy as its investments has been rather dormant in the past few years.

Tell us more about LADA and the role it plays in the development of Langkawi’s tourism industry.

Since its inception in 1990, LADA has played a significant role in progressing Langkawi’s tourism industry via numerous development and tourism projects. Accommodations, restaurants, entertainment and attraction facilities have been improved significantly over the years. The public and private sectors have also invested millions of Ringgit in the construction of new public amenities and infrastructure.

Additionally, we have recently revamped LADA’s website to provide updates, for instance, on our engagements with the community such as the tourism town hall sessions. One of our challenges is to get more impactful sports and cultural events out and do better in publicising them. Many tourists know Langkawi for its magical islands but our folklores are not polished enough to meet the international standards.

I strongly feel Langkawi’s tourism potential is not fully tapped yet although the island is now at its fifth stage of development. While its tourist numbers are good, when it comes to benefitting the local economy, the people are complaining. To jumpstart the economy again, we brought in some new investments recently so that money can once again circulate on the island and reach everyone.

For those unfamiliar with Langkawi, how would you describe the island and its offerings?

Langkawi is a tropical gem in the Andaman Sea, comprising a mixture of picturesque paddy fields, jungle-clad hills, valleys and sandy beaches. Most importantly it is an ancient place with rock formation dating back 500 million years. Langkawi is also recognised as a diving spot besides being a treasure trove of exciting holiday experiences and duty-free island of kitchenware, chocolate and tobacco products.

Ecotourism is driven by ideas concerning local livelihoods and the conservation of natural and cultural environments. Can you elaborate on its importance to Langkawi?

Ecotourism, as a subset of sustainable tourism, is a vast and growing industry because of people longing for nature, a getaway from the bustling modern life in cities. Langkawi is one of those rare tourists’ islands where natural forests still constitute over 60% of the land use. LADA has been instrumental in developing tourism products that combine local livelihoods with the rich natural endowments. The Kilim Geoforest Park and the Kubang Badak geo-trail are a case in point, both receiving more than 300,000 visitors yearly.

You have seen some early successes, with Qatar Airways’ new service to Langkawi last year as a recent example. How much further can tourism in Langkawi grow?

Langkawi’s developments since the 1990’s have contributed significantly to the tourism industry, which has brought economic benefits, including increase in employment, business opportunities and improved infrastructure. While tourism remains to be its mainstay of economic growth for years to come as it has improved the quality of life of its residents and provided business opportunities to investors, we need to diversify and explore new areas of growth. We are exploring the possibility of mainstreaming new agriculture for instance by using 5G technology to plant high-value vegetables.

Langkawi is filled with unique and colourful encounters. What are your favourite parts of the island?

Its night market in Kuah is ideal for those wishing to taste some of the most authentic and affordable food on the island, including the Malay sweets and street dishes. Arts and craft, textiles and souvenirs are also sold here. Langkawi’s many islands with their appealing tropical rainforests and mesmerising cliff tops are also the perfect locations for island hopping, be it on boats or jet skis, sunset cruises and to discover its flora and fauna. Langkawi is home to an abundance of extraordinary wildlife, including 200 bird species. My favourite part has to be the 2.8km long beach of Tanjung Rhu. Being there is simply divine.

Lastly, if you were to give a piece of advice to someone visiting Langkawi, what would it be?

There are plenty of opportunities to experience a guided tour of the island, explore its traditional Malay houses and gain local insights on the island’s flora and fauna. It is easy to spot the eagles and hornbills flying above you. As one of Malaysia’s most beautiful and breathtaking islands, Langkawi has something for everyone, ranging from its rich culture, food and varied attractions. Indeed, this is a paradise not to be missed.

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