All eyes are on Kuala Lumpur as it aims to claim its place among world-class cities.
By all appearances, Kuala Lumpur still is an affluent colonial crossroads on the trade routes between India and China. Its cultural diversity shows in every aspect of life here, from the Chinese and Indian cuisine that dominates the restaurant scene to the mix of Moorish, Tudor and Spanish building styles. The king of this largely Islamic country is a sultan; you still see the same selection of spices, textiles and tropical produce displayed here in the 7th century.
Even social customs reflect a more conservative era. Men and women follow traditional gender roles, especially in the home, and in some settings are segregated. You'll find more conformity here than in Western societies because individual needs are believed to be less important than those of the community. Malaysian culture is based on consensus building.
In spite of its traditional ways, however, Kuala Lumpur is no frontier town. More than 5,000 foreign companies representing 40 countries have facilities in Malaysia - and Kuala Lumpur is the center of that activity. From a malariaridden tin-mining settlement in the 1850s (its name translates in Malay to muddy river mouth) Kuala Lumpur - or KL to locals - boasts gleaming skyscrapers towering over colonial buildings and parks in the city center. The striking twin towers of Petronas, Malaysia's national oil company, dominate the cityscape.
With KL's rapid growth, industrialization and globalization, its people find themselves at their own crossroads. In this city that is both peaceful and bustling, residents are challenged to reconcile the old and the new in their lifestyles, culture and business ventures. They have no choice: The prime minister's Vision 2020 initiative supports the national vision, Kuala Lumpur - A World-Class City.
By 2020 KL will establish the highest quality living, working and business environment benchmarked against the best in the world ... to attract and retain national and international investors as well as skilled and professional workers. To attain that lofty goal, plans call for upgrades to KL's infrastructure, facilities, transportation services and housing. It's an ambitious plan, a grand renovation of a city of more than 2 million.
KL has a head start on sports facilities, having hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and is home to a long list of world-class sporting events, among them the Formula 1 World Championship auto races, the A1 Grand Prix and the Motorcycle Grand Prix. Each year, the city stages the CSI 5* KL Grand Prix, an international equestrian event, as well as the KL Tower Run and the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon.
The city is preparing for even more visitors, both leisure and business travelers, with five new luxury hotels in the works, including a St. Regis. Planners are taking steps to boost KL's image as an eco-tourism and health tourism destination. The city's Malaysia, Truly Business website offers 168 reasons to invest here, whether your aim is to relocate your business, buy a second home, organize a conference or take a tropical vacation.
Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur are progressing at a dizzying pace, yet some of the city's most appealing elements won't change. For one, Malaysia's impressive literacy rate of 90 percent will only improve as corporate investments - and the market for an educated workforce - grow.
Some traditions are bound to erode, but for now, public hugging, firm handshakes and shaking a woman's hand unless she offers are still considered bad manners. Conservative dress and speaking in soft tones is preferred, and don't be offended if a colleague from Kuala Lumpur asks personal questions, especially about relationships and children. Sharing personal information is a prerequisite to doing business with Malaysians; answer politely and ask them questions, too. Likewise, expect your Malaysian counterparts to arrive late for meetings; in Kuala Lumpur they call it rubber time.
Checking In With Salahuddin Mohd Ariffin
Vice President and Director of Tourism Malaysia, New York
What Exciting or Unusual Business Opportunities Can Entrepreneurs Explore in KL?
Most people don't realize that Malaysia is the world center for the production and trade of halal goods and services - those foods and products permissible in the Muslim faith. It's a fast-growing market with great potential, estimated at $2.1 trillion globally. In fact, the 7th International Halal Showcase - bringing together the world's halal-compliant goods and services - will be held in Kuala Lumpur June 23-27, 2010.
Malaysia's agro-based industries also are expanding. We are modernizing agriculture: developing large-scale commercial farming with greater private sector participation, making wider use of modern technologies, unlocking the potential of biotechnology, helping entrepreneurial farmers develop their businesses, and improving the institutional support system.
Are Meetings a Major Segment of KL 's Hospitality Business?
Kuala Lumpur is a popular M.I.C.E. destination. In 2007, our premiere convention and expo site, the KL Convention Centre, was the first convention center in Asia to be awarded benchmarked status by Green Globe, the worldwide certification and improvement system for sustainable travel and tourism. In its first three years the center was nominated as Asia's Best by an important trade group and hosted more than 1,800 events, contributing more than $500 million to the city's economy.
How Does the Government Encourage Foreign Investors?
Malaysia has taken steps to make the services sector more open. Our aim is to create a conducive business environment to attract investments and technology, and to create higher-value employment opportunities. This is an intense effort by the government to promote and develop the services sector, complementing the growth and development we've seen in the manufacturing sector. The government has decided to immediately liberalize 27 services industries - in health and social services, tourism, transport and business and computer services - without imposing any equity conditions.
How Has Tourism in Kuala Lumpur Changed Recently?
Sightseeing here just got easier with the launch of the KL Monorail and KL Hop-On Hop-Off. The KL HOHO bus route covers 70 tourist attractions and 22 designated stops, including several at KL Monorail stations. On board, passengers can view KL through a semi-glass roof and listen to prerecorded commentaries in eight languages. The 11 KL Monorail stations in high-traffic areas connect passengers to shopping districts, major hotels, KLCC, historic sites and some of the best restaurants and nightclubs.