SELLING MAT DAN
He’s the perfect person to sell Terengganu to UK, European tourists
IN the seminar hall at the recent World Travel Market (WTM), one Englishman sat intently watching promotional videos from various Malaysian tourism agencies. For most present in the hall, he could be one of the many travel journalists invited, cutting a dapper figure in his casual beige blazer, matching check trousers complete with beret. But he wasn’t. The man sitting alongside officials from the Tourism Terengganu Board was introduced as a celebrity from Terengganu — Mat Dan!
It shouldn’t have surprised me one bit that the Bristol-born Daniel Tyler, who as a teenager backpacked his way into the hearts and minds of the Terengganu locals 10 years ago, was at one of the biggest annual international travel shows, to promote the country that he had unwittingly fallen in love with and adopted.
“I am not officially the tourism ambassador for Terengganu,” he said in his thick Terengganu accent that has inadvertently catapulted him to fame and given him a celebrity status of sorts when a video clip of him speaking in “Ganu Kite” accent went viral.
Since then, Netizens couldn’t have enough of him. For now, local tourists flocked to the state in search of Mat Dan. Now, the tourism board has to work harder to get him to work his charm on UK and European tourists.
Officially or not, Mat Dan, who is also the ambassador for the Environment Department of Terengganu, is synonymous with the east coast state of Malaysia.
“Orang tengok Mat Dan, orang tengok Tengganu!” Dan, you see Terengganu!) he said.
Indeed, talk about Terengganu, at least here in Blighty, the conversation will certainly touch on the Mat Salleh that had made Terengganu his home and the Mat Salleh who speaks the loghat Terengganu fluently as if he was fed with the budu and keropok lekor since birth.
Meeting him in person has somewhat persuaded me that Terengganu needed an additional tourism product to help attract tourists from the United Kingdom to the shores, lakes and islands of Terengganu, so that he can share his enthusiasm and love for sunbathing on the beautiful beaches, snorkelling in the sea and his appreciation of the beauty of its natural habitat.
But how do you package and market Mat Dan to the UK market?
At WTM, one can see, hear and even smell tourism products effectively packaged by countries in the world that participate annually. There are dancers in colourful eye-catching costumes dancing to vigorous drumbeats or soulful traditional musical instruments, mesmerising smell of massage oils lingering from Thai or Indonesian pavilions and icons or beauty queens sashaying around to attract visitors to their stands. Anything at all that is eye-catching and visible will get a snap that will make the rounds in social media and garner likes and thus interest.
So, how does one package and market Mat Dan?
There is no point having a human product, be it dancers in traditional costumes or icons in eyecatching outfit, if they sit around their own pavilion chatting with the people who came on the same flight with them.
They need to be reaching out to the more than 50,000 visitors that go to the travel show — talk to them, engage them and entice them to your country. No use selfieing with your own kind, that will only make the rounds in the cyber world of your own country — and in my book that is just a syok sendiri experience wasted on an international stage.
The officer who invited Mat Dan over admitted that after hearing that he was visiting his family, he suggested that Mat Dan make an appearance at the show. Admittedly, no one other than Malaysians, recognised him as the Mat Dan who is making waves in Malaysia. But it was a good move nonetheless — a first step to introduce him.
A lot of work still needs to be done to market him.
After our chat, Mat Dan was whisked off to another engagement. However, the visitors at WTM were still none the wiser about his identity or celebrity status.
At the Selesa Restaurant of Bayswater Grand Plaza, he spoke to bloggers and some British media — a plausible attempt indeed.
Terengganu has a lot to offer to tourists, especially from the West; they love nature, wildlife and culture. They love to experiment with different kinds of food. These are the very factors that captured the heart of the young restless Englishman, that stopped him in his tracks after backpacking through more than 20 countries.
Given enough tips on promoting the state as a tourist destination, he could work his way around the UK, working with the likes of other Malaysians based here such as Hairani Muhammad, also from Terengganu, whose Makan Café is the talk of the town. He could also work with MasterChef participant, Zaleha Olpin Kadir, again to talk about food and help promote not just Terengganu but the country. He need not be speaking Ganu Kite all the time to people from his birthplace but it could be an attraction. And there’s, of course, our own Awang Goneng — together they could promote their state until the cows come home!
As Mat Dan himself admitted, he loves to talk about food, culture and hospitality of the local people to anyone who would listen. As someone who claims to be 99.9 per cent Malaysian, to the extent of even uttering some English words with the Terengganu accent, he is the perfect person to market Terengganu and Malaysia. Take him on a roadshow, get him on UK talkshows and introduce him to the British media. I hear there are plans to make this Englishman a Terengganu icon and if that doesn’t make headlines in the British media, I don’t know what will.
Terengganu has been known to attract visitors who fell helplessly in love with the land of Ulit Mayang. There’s Rohani Longuet from France who went to Pulau Duyong in 1971 and has been there ever since. She could easily sell Terengganu to France. And with Mat Dan doing the rounds in the UK, we could easily get the numbers for Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
Mat Dan making an appearance at the recent World Travel Market.
More needs to be done to market Mat Dan to the international audience.