Chief Executive Officer of Penang Global Tourism (PGT)

Responsible for generating tourism to Penang by working closely with key tourism players since Ooi Chok Yan’s current appointment in November 2014, PGT as the state tourism bureau has established under his leadership a number of signature events that not only drew visitors and tourists alike to Penang but also saw the achievement of two Guinness World Records. Innumerable accolades from renowned international media such as CNN, Lonely Planet, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Yahoo Travel and New York Times have also poured in for Penang and its tourism efforts over the years. Kudos go partly to Ooi’s background. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Melbourne’s RMIT University, the 46-year old Penangite started his career working with top multinational advertising agencies and went on to win several advertising awards in the local and international arena.

How has your advertising career prior to joining PGT help you in your current job responsibilities?
My experience of working with multinational brands has enabled me to plan better strategies promoting Penang’s tourism. Besides helping me to understand the target audience much better, I have also been able to apply some of the creative thinking into resolving certain challenges faced during my service with PGT.

Under your tenure, what are some of PGT’s memorable highlights and achievements thus far?
Firstly, it would be Penang welcoming its first long-haul flight from Doha by Qatar Airways on February 2018 where the state is the second destination in Malaysia chosen by this Middle-Eastern airline to have weekly direct flights as part of their expansion.

Secondly, the increasing numbers of direct flights to Penang over the years. We received 293 direct flights weekly in 2019 compared to only 202 in 2015, which represented a 45% increase. The growth of passenger traffic at Penang International Airport (PIA) is another achievement worth remembering considering the 38% growth when Penang welcomed about 8.3 million visitors to Penang in 2019 compared to only 6 million visitors in 2014.

Lastly, the vibrant scenarios of the festivals and some very iconic and widely-loved events hosted by the state. They include the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Penang International Food Festival (PIFF) which received on average over 500,000 visitors throughout the years these events were held. All these would not have been possible without the support provided by our PGT chairman, board of directors and my dedicated team. Besides our partnership with various associations, we are also grateful to our ever- supportive Penangites.

Firefly made PIA its northern hub with the launch of its first B737-800 on April 11 and opened routes from Penang to Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. How has the passenger movements been like and have they helped boost connectivity within ASEAN and Asia Pacific?
We have been seeing increasing numbers of domestic traffic coming into Penang since early this year, especially after Firefly’s announcement of PIA as its northern hub. Coupled with Malaysia’s reopening of its international borders on April 1 and the subsequent increasing number for direct flights from the region into Penang, June 17, for instance, saw us welcoming Lion Air’s inaugural daily flight from Medan to Penang.With international borders reopening, what are Penang’s target markets?
Apart from our top 10 traditional markets, namely Indonesia, Singapore, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, India and the United States, we are also looking at cities that have direct flights to Penang. We will be organising roadshows in some of our top traditional markets to further strengthen Penang’s position as a preferred destination of choice.

What are some recent overseas sales missions and trade shows that PGT have participated in to promote Penang as a destination for tourism, medical and education?
We are active participants of the oversea roadshows organised by Tourism Malaysia and the major trade shows. Early January this year saw us exhibiting in the Dubai World EXPO 2022. PGT also recently took part in the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai to showcase Penang’s diverse products and services to the Middle East market.

In June, we participated in Tourism Malaysia’s Korean Roadshow and were also one of the exhibitors of the Malaysia Healthcare EXPO 2022 in Surabaya to showcase Penang’s world-class medical facilities. In July, PGT had its Penang Roadshow in Bangkok featuring Penang’s latest attractions.

What are some new attraction offerings in Penang post Covid-19 pandemic?
To diversify our tourism products, we have introduced several hidden gems under “The Other Side of the Island – Balik Pulau and Teluk Bahang” and “The Opposite Side of the Island – Seberang Perai” to bolster our amazing array of our ecotourism and agrotourism offerings. Visitors can look forward to a scenic bicycle ride through the tranquil rural landscape in Balik Pulau and just a stone’s throw away, they can enjoy Penang International Container Art Festival, said to be the first in Asia to showcase urban art on container installations.

Those seeking for adventure within a natural setting will find Teluk Bahang standing out as a home to ecotourism attractions such
as Boulder Valley Glamping, Tropical Spice Garden, ESCAPE Theme Park and ENTOPIA by Penang Butterfly Farm.

We also have many nature- and agro-based theme parks on the mainland such as Frog Hill, a former mining site now known as the Jiuzhaigou of Penang while Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest, a popular hiking spot with its dome-shaped peak at 545 metre- high, is Seberang Perai’s version of Penang Hill on the island. Meanwhile, the Butterworth Art Walk at Jalan Bagan Luar features many murals and installations that serve as colourful backdrops for photo opportunities.

As a coordinator of Penang’s tourism activities, what are some major events lined up for the rest of 2022 to woo more arrivals?
Come August 20-28, our long-awaited PIFF 2022 will be showcasing the state’s diverse food culture and reinstating its fame as Asia’s food paradise. The Penang Bridge International Marathon in December will be another major event to look out for.

What is the significance of Penang Hill’s Unesco Biosphere Reserve’s recent recognition to Penang’s prominence as a tourist destination?
This latest recognition received on June 11 makes Penang the first state in Peninsular Malaysia to possess two UNESCO status. Do enjoy a morning hike in Penang Hill’s ancient rainforest and spend the rest of the day soaking in the old-world charm
of George Town’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tell us about Penang’s potential as a cruise destination and the facilities in place to support it.
Our Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal is one of the major city ports in Malaysia. With the completion of its recent expansion, the cruise terminal can now cater to docking two quantum-sized cruise ships at the same time. Cruise passengers off boarding in George Town have ample time to explore the city.

The five-star Amari SPICE Penang with 453 rooms in Bayan Lepas’ Central Business District will be opening in September. Will there be more new hotels opening in the state?
We expect The George Penang’s soft opening at Jalan Pinang this November and the 200-room Le Meridien Penang Airport hotel, located by the PIA, is scheduled to be opened by end-2026. Both Amari SPICE and The George, with 93 rooms, are part of the international ONYX Hospitality Group.

Does Penang have enough hotel accommodation and the manpower needs to meet the influx of tourists?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, we have about 20,000 plus rooms in Penang, which are sufficient to cater to the accommodation needs. Manpower remains a challenge nationwide and is not limited only to the tourism industry. For the time being, containment measures such as the digitalisation of hotel services are being carried out to resolve this issue.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind having spent slightly over eight years at PGT?
I wish to leave a strong foundation for PGT backed by the support from the tourism players. My aim is to push Penang to higher grounds in the coming years so that it will remain as one of the world’s top chosen destinations noted for its culture and heritage, nature and adventure as well as food and lifestyle.

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