Let's do more for tourism in JB

JB Cool, the article in August 2014 issue of Going Places
Last August while travelling to the UK for my nephew’s wedding, I was delighted to discover that Pages 76 to 81 of Going Places, the Malaysia Airlines’ in-flight magazine, was devoted to a feature on Johor Baru’s Jalan Tan Hiok Nee entitled, “JB Cool.”  It warmed my heart that our very own JB was truly “going places” and gaining exposure among international travellers on board our national carrier.  As I scanned the photos with the feature, I recognised the faces and places because I’m familiar with the merchants who are injecting new life into the heart of JB with their new businesses in old buildings. 
                       
My friends from Canada visiting
Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk
I didn’t think it was wrong for me to feel a prickle of pride because this charming part of JB that I frequent to introduce its uniqueness to my visitors, was being featured in this prestigious magazine.  Since Jalan Tan Hiok Nee was declared a Heritage Walk in 2009, the network of nearby roads that link Jalan Trus and Jalan Dhoby have been developing into a popular destination for locals and tourists.  With weekend cultural events and daily night markets in the adjacent Bazaar JB, this area is drawing in throngs of people.
                                 
Then two arches at each end of Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, one near OCBC Bank and the other opposite HSBC Bank, were built as landmarks for visitors to identify this heritage destination.  As the twin arches complimented the roads which were already paved, the heritage identity of this area attracted self-motivated young people to start businesses here.  It organically developed into an exciting community with traditional businesses like tailors, dhobis, kopitiams and bakeries thriving alongside specialty coffee cafes, a pop-up cafe, chic boutiques, art galleries, antique dealers and an established corner café renowned for its chicken chop!

My friends from Australia were forced to walk on the road
because the pavements were blocked by cars!
While the aim of creating a destination to bring life back into the old part of the city is being met, some situations have arisen that were probably not anticipated and if they go unresolved, I’m concerned that this destination will no longer be attractive.  Recently, the JB Bazaar started to occupy a wider area with more stalls mushrooming next to registered traders.  Now the rampant illegal parking by businessmen and other drivers along the paved streets have destroyed the pavements and created potential traffic and fire hazards.  A larger bazaar also resulted in more vehicles belonging to traders and shoppers choking up the heart of the city, especially in the evenings.

The Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) recently held a “Go Green” event with a recycling campaign, music festival and a Vehicle-Free Day in some parts of the city.  Going Vehicle-Free is an excellent idea that should be adopted permanently for visitors to enjoy the sights with walking tours in the city.  For a start, I humbly suggest to gazette Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk as a “Strictly No Parking Zone” so that the pavements are freed up for pedestrians and traders to do more to promote JB’s culture and heritage.  This one-way street should allow vehicle drive-through only while business owners and traders who show proof of their business addresses here, should be offered a low flat rate for season parking in the car-park at nearby Jalan Ibrahim. 
                                          
Heritage Turned Hip, the article in the December 2014
issure of Fireflyz
Incidentally, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee was also featured in the December 2014 issue of Fireflyz, Firefly airline’s in-flight magazine, and the popularity of this destination continues to spread to travellers who are on this low-cost carrier’s routes.  The publicity in airline magazines will probably result in more visitors from abroad but the question now is, “Is Johor Baru ready for international travellers?” 
           
At the moment, the information centre at Laman Sri Lanang seems to be underutilized even though it was designed for ambitious purposes.  This building should be properly manned by trained personnel to provide information and any emergency help.  The visible presence of Tourist Police will be deterrents to petty criminals and the Police may also double up as Courtesy Ambassadors to answer any queries and equipped to be a “Walking Directory” to help visitors with directions to places of interest and the nearest hospital or Police Station, if the need arises.

Members of Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk Committee with
Johor Tourism Director, Dr Badrul Hisham Kassim [seated
3rd from Left] and Asst Director, Amirrul Asyraf Ibrahim [Left]
and some traders at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee
Recently I was at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee with visitors from the Johor Tourism Department and also met several businessmen who lamented about the problems they faced after the nightly crowds leave at the close of business.  I regret to learn that they not only leave a trail of garbage in their wake but also a stinky stench from stale urine.  We know that everyone has to answer the call of Nature and it appears that in the dark of night, people have been using the street as their toilet!

Cleanliness and security are vital to making a destination attractive to visitors.  But the sad truth is how this popular destination does not have any public toilets and those that were available for visitors in shops will be closed after business hours.  This toilet issue is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg because a great deal more needs to be done to make our city ready to welcome visitors.  

The utter waste of a
Tourist Information Centre that is virtually always closed!
We urgently need a concerted effort by the relevant authorities to work in cooperation with the MBJB, Tourism Department, Police and Traffic Police as well as the committed participation of every individual who is proud of JB as our home, because it will go a long way to improve the image of our city.

The start of 2015 is a good time to reflect on the past and take stock of our successes and failures so that we can do better in the future.  So let’s begin, if possible, with better law enforcement with “No Parking on Pavements” at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, proper parking in designated areas and more rubbish bins so that the public have no excuse for littering.  The time is ripe for us to do something constructive to improve the situation so that visitors, whether local or foreign, will take home a positive impression of Johor Baru.

A version of this was published in the January 2015 issue of The Iskandarian

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