42 Years On, MATTA Gets More Vibrant

The story of the publisher of this publication began 42 years ago in 1975. It was a time when the colour television have just started making its foray into the households to brighten up what was a monochrome landscape permeated by the idiot box.

Colour TVs as people knew it then was luxury, and so was the ability to envision a future. Most were contented to just having a job, no talk nor fuss about clocking in from 9 to 5, with much time to spare in the evenings, and even more time in the weekends for walks, runs and relational visits to friends and families.

It was in such a setting in 1975 when 30 tour and travel agents convened to moot the idea for a body to represent the trade, an association they simply called the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents.

What was on their mind one must wonder given the black and white screens everybody was accustomed to. Was it even an industry by itself since Malaya had only been independent 18 years before and Malaysia was formally formed in what, six years? These 30 might as well just inherit the Magnificent Seven or the Captain Kirk moniker for boldly going where no man has gone before (well at least in the context of Malaysians).

Whether they were star struck or fans of Star Trek, forward they marched with no regards for “what could not”, instead it would have been “what could be” that kept the 30 going. If this was the Orient Express, the train would have run its full course after 42 years, stopping every now and then for significant memories to come on board.

To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia

For the benefit of the younger tourism players, this train made a stop in 1986 for the second PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Conference in Malaysia. It was this time when the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business (TOBTAB) were introduced that led to the licensing requirements of the agents.

The train also stopped four years later for what was the country’s greatest runaway success then - the Visit Malaysia Year 1990. “To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia” dominated the airwaves and the TVs. Every Malaysian was as Malaysian as can be.

The train stopped again four years later as an encore to the highly successful Visit Malaysia Year. This time, “Make It Visit Malaysia Year 1994” emblazoned every headline. Ever since then, the industry has grown and maybe in the speed of light too when Internet exploded into the scene.

In a span of 42 years, MATTA has grown from the first 30 to now 100 times larger - about 3,200 members. 96% or more than 3,000 of her members are licensed for Inbound. The industry grew because tourism has become a pillar of the Malaysian industry, ranking often within the Top 10 and Top 5 in the economy. It grew also because of 1990’s unforgettable experience when Tourism Malaysia (TM), Malaysia Airlines System (MAS), the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) and MATTA worked together as 1 Malaysia to welcome the world, way before the term was even coined as a unifying theme. “For example, in promoting to the North American market, Tourism Malaysia selected and invited the top agents, MAS provided the free seats for them to fly to Malaysia, MAH members offered courtesy rooms, and MATTA members vied to deliver complimentary transfers and tours.

“Without adequate air accessibility, room capacity and land transport, promotional efforts will not be converted into bookings or translated into visitor arrivals and tourism receipts. This four-party collaboration between TM, MAS, MAH and MATTA was the successful formula that had made Malaysia one of the most visited countries globally.”

The four-party unity is indeed something the Malaysian tourism industry can look back and be proud of. One can say it was the vision put forth by the nation that rallied everyone together. It was the same during the Thomas Cups and adequately similar in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. The forbearance of this destined success had the distinct Malaysian spirit to thank for, without which the efforts of working together with the Tourist Development Corporation (TDC) including marketing Malaysia to overseas travel agents in 1975 by the 30 founding fathers of MATTA would have gone to waste. In the same regard, the first PATA Conference in Malaysia held 45 years ago in 1972, credited as the inspirational spark that led to MATTA’s formation, would also render itself meaningless.

Life has taken its course and it will continue to surge ahead in the next 42 years. From the private practice standpoint at MATTA, the new era has only just begun. The social and socially active digital enterprises have weaved its way into the industry much like how the colour TVs did back then. Everybody was glued to it and nothing much has changed now except the screens have gone smaller but the imagery of visions and inspirations, simply far reaching even if the subject is only about inbound.