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Theme park builder rues ‘corrupt’ tourism, attractions industry

 | July 17, 2017

Founder and owner of Sim Leisure Group, which builds theme parks around the world, claims tour organisers and taxi operators in Penang are asking for huge kickbacks.


KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian who has made it in the theme park industry on the global stage, has described the local attractions and tourism support industry in the country to be “extremely corrupt”.

Sim Choo Kheng, the founder and CEO of Sim Leisure Group, said this when sharing his experience on the hidden cost of doing business in Malaysia at a dialogue in Kuala Lumpur last week.

The Penang-born Sim, whose company has designed and built some of the high-profile theme parks in over 50 countries, claimed corruption was the norm in this part of the world.

“When we talk about corruption, most people only think about the corruption in governments.

“But the private sector is more corrupt than the public sector,” he said at the dialogue organised by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) on tax and regulatory policies.

“Corruption also doesn’t just mean you will be paying inflated prices for goods and services, but the hidden cost is that you’re not getting the right person for the job because it’s not based on merit.”

Sim said this was why he left Malaysia to seek a level playing field and has based his company in Dubai, where “the best” companies congregate and compete based on merit.

But despite his success abroad, Sim said he wanted to contribute to the tourism industry in Penang, and built ESCAPE, an adventure theme park in 2012.

Sadly, he said, the industry in Penang was “very corrupt”.

He claimed that many people, from tour organisers to taxi operators, demanded kickbacks from him to promote or bring passengers to the theme park in Teluk Bahang.

“But we refused to give in to this corruption. We refused to pay, so we were victimised. We have been boycotted since day one with all sorts of threats.

“Some of them ask for a 10% to 20% cut from entrance fees, and I got to know that in the George Town area, some of these tour organisers and taxi operators are getting a 40% to 60% cut.”

Sim said the higher demand for kickbacks in the George Town area was due to the popularity of the area as well as the growing number of attractions there, with some 35 so-called “museums” in George Town.

“This corruption makes the market less competitive because people aren’t competing based on the quality product and services they offer, but based on how much in bribes they can give.

“What hope do we have with the business community conducting its businesses based on how much bribes they are willing to give out?

“Everyone in the industry has been silent, fearing boycotts.

“But I have been vocal about the issue for the last four years now.”

Sim said he was frustrated as there had been no changes to this unethical practice and there were clear signs that many of the establishments which are paying lesser in kickbacks are, as a result, seeing fewer visitors.

He said he hoped the authorities would intervene in the matter to avoid more attractions from becoming victims.

Sim added that he had previously lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission on being asked for kickbacks, but the problem still continued.


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