Do we need a Minister of Tourism?

Malaysia won the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in 2004; this means we were credited for creating the best advertising campaign in the world!

The subsequent year we won the most number of metal awards in Asia, and the Jalur Gemilang flew gloriously at the mecca of advertising.

Over the years since then, our global creative reputation had not just waned but plunged.


What went wrong? One word: Politics.

Some of the best Malaysian creative professionals have also left our country and taken up global positions in world renowned networks and they keep shining.

My plea to TalentCorp Malaysia fell on deaf ears, even though I gave them all the data they needed.

What I am trying to say in common parlance is that we have the some of the world’s best creative minds in Malaysia.

They walk amongst us. Humble, unassuming, and with acute clarity of thought.

Do not belittle them. Do not diminish them. Do not intimidate them. Do not undervalue them.

Do not think it is easy to become an accomplished creative person.

Do not think money can buy everything.

It is no secret, for as long as I can remember, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board under the Ministry of Tourism is a big ticket client for Malaysian advertising and media agencies. Oops, digital too (in case your VCs ask).

It is also no secret, unless we wish continue to live in denial and maintain the katak di bawah tempurung mentality, it takes more than creative excellence to get a piece of the Malaysian Tourism business.

Apart from the tagline ‘Truly Asia’ which has a horde of self-glorifying elderlies (including politicians) claiming credit for writing it, most of the creative done for the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board is shabby and mediocre at best.


Because we have self-proclaimed experts dispensing divine directives on what is right and what is wrong.

Because we know a travel agency can become an ad agency overnight and tasked to handle the Tourism business.

Because we know we can charge the Tourism Board hundreds of thousands for a Facebook page.

Because, we know a lot of pockets need to be filled before the actual work begins.

Because, true creative professionals do not suffer fools.

Because, Googled one-liners can save many a job in Ministry meetings.

Because, the approval hierarchy is ancient and disoriented about excellence.

Because, the messaging is fragmented across so many advertising and media agencies.

Because of one word: Politics.

So why is this article important?

Because it is our country we are talking about.

Because too many cooks spoil the soup.

Because if we have a Minister of Tourism who has to defend a logo done by someone close to him, you know something is wrong.

Because if the Ministry cannot take criticisms from people like me, I have only 32 years of experience in the industry, and instead approach me through their agency demanding I publish an apology for publishing the right things, then you know something is very wrong.

BTW, I did publish an apology (see pic) to one previous Minister of Tourism; any oaf can tell you I would have lost my KDN otherwise.

But no more I say. My country needs to fix its image to the world.

If the people at the Tourism Ministry are going to internalise my feedback, great. In fact, there are some people in the Ministry who are awesome, but curtailed.

Many truths reside in my mind and I have seen it all.

From gangsta tactics to mind-boggling media negotiations that defy logic.

The perversions I’ve seen in the battle to win the Tourism account is the stuff of legend.

From all the hushed conversations at the Concorde Hotel lobby to the knowing nods at the Riverside Café at PWTC, it has been anything but strategic.

But I digress… do we need a Minister of Tourism? You tell me.

We need world-class marketers and creative geniuses now.  And these people exist in our midst. They toil restlessly for creative excellence.
The world has recognised them.

The time has come to give our creative talent the room to grow and shine.
Hopefully, all the brilliant creative people we have lost will also return to our shores.

No more Politics.

Professor Harmandar Singh aka Sledgehammer

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