The Malaysian Marvel

Written by Vivek Bharati | Updated: Aug 29 2003, 05:30am hrs
Less than an hour away from Kuala Lumpur, the smooth Malaysian highway winds its way up a hill to a multistory car park. In the adjacent building you step into a hall and move on to a similar large enclosed area on the first floor. The sight of thousands of people queued up to catch a 3.4 km long ropeway gives you the first glimpse of the popularity of the place you are about to visit. In about 15 minutes the ropeway climbs up to 6,000 ft above sea level to transport you to the worlds largest hotel complex.

Welcome to Genting Highlands, a resort of magnificent proportions housing a casino, an 18-hole golf course, shopping mall, food plaza, theatre complex, video game parlour, a huge Walt Disney style entertainment complex, convention centre for 5,000 persons, and a hotel complex comprising 7,500 rooms. Another 2,500 rooms are under construction and in about a year this largest hotel complex in the world would have 10,000 rooms.

Lets come to some numbers that make all the difference. The Genting complex currently employs 8,000 people, and the number could soon kiss 10,000. This, of course, is just direct employment. The indirect employment generated by services needed to move goods and tourists to the resort would easily be as much, if not more. Last year, over 15 million tourists visited the resort! The number continues to rise year after year. This is hardly surprising considering that the complex caters to the needs of all men, women and children and is an inviting family getaway. The sheer contribution of this one resort to job and income generation and thus to Malaysian GDP is admirable. The resort is owned by a Malaysian of Chinese origin. He began developing the place in the early 1970s and displayed his entrepreneurial vision by investing 400 million ringgit (about USD 100 million at todays exchange rate) to construct the mountain highway alone.

Today, it is a multi-billion dollar property. The promoters vision became possible by the support the Malaysian government extends to all such big projects by acting as a facilitator. Indeed, Prime Minister Mahathir personally monitors some large projects to ensure that bottlenecks are removed for their timely completion. Around four decades ago, Malaysia was behind India in terms of all development indicators, and now it is decades ahead and is close to rubbing shoulders with the developed nations. The Genting Highland resort is a symbol of how public-private partnerships can leverage entrepreneurial energies to develop a country and its people.

Why has India failed while Malaysia has marched ahead We do not lack entrepreneurship. We have the management and knowledge skills and the ability to mobilise capital that can build tens of Genting resorts and add a million new jobs through tourism alone. What we lack is the vision and the model of governance that can leverage the Indian entrepreneurial spirit to transform India. Take tourism, for example. We lose out on thousands of tourists each year during the peak winter months because air seats are not available. And they are not available because protecting a particular airline is more important than expanding the tourist inflow. Not surprising that tourist inflows remain an abysmal 2.4 million and even after struggling for a decade, we are nowhere near the target of touching 5 million. Which is a pity. If we had the proper infrastructure, just the Buddhist circuit alone can generate inflows of over two million.

Genting resort is successful because the connecting infrastructure of world-class airports and highways and radio taxi fleets that makes movement comfortable and efficient is available. We will take possibly another decade before we can boast of an airport of the kind available in Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. The reason is that we are not clear about how to involve the private sector in building better airports and have no deadlines for improving our airport infrastructure. Mercifully, this government has had the vision of constructing new highways, although the quality of our new highways and their management (there are exceptions) still does not meet Malaysian standards.

Although, one area where India is more advanced is the quality of our mobile phone network that is now comparable to the best in the world. Our model of governance needs to be modified to extend the mobile telephony achievement to highways, airports, holiday resorts etc. Tourism alone can add substantial weight to the GDP. But the supporting infrastructure would facilitate and lift every sector including manufacturing.

The author is an advisor to Ficci. Views expressed herein are personal