Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tourism Malaysia and rich Arab women.


So the Dutchman is home after a week of travelling, and he brought me Emirates in-flight magazine. (I love flying Emirates and I used to take it all the time until they started regularly stopping in Colombo on the way from Dubai to Singapore -- extremely tiring because you can't sleep on that leg. Also, their food is fantastic.) I adore reading travel articles and also scrutinising tourism ads for Orientalism and other fancy theories like that.

Here's an ad for Malaysia, which targets (rich) Arab women from the Middle East. And men, I guess, but they're secondary here. Because the print says
Luxury Brands, Luxury Spas, Decisons, Decisions. 
Discover luxury spas nestled between designer labels in Asia's finest malls. 
Hydrate or detoxify? Tote or clutch? It's now or never.
It sounds almost a little sarcastic, because deciding between two kinds of handbags or two kinds of pampering is hardly a life-altering decision. But what gets me most of all is the way these Arab women are portrayed as being utterly frivolous, with nothing to do except shop and pamper themselves. Stereotyping women as obsessed with shopping and all things frivolous is nothing new. At least in this case, it isn't harmful, just offensive.


Actually, I can't deny that this is what it seems like. When waiting in airport terminals in Dubai and Doha, I've seen many well-dressed Arab women decked in jewels, thickly made-up, and occupying their children. It's possible of course, that they live a life of luxury.

But that doesn't mean that that's all they care about. And Malaysia, seriously, usually your problem with advertising your country is that you emphasise the indigenous tribes too much, or claim to be representative of Asia (Malaysia Truly Asia!). Advertise your halal food and ubiquitous musollahs! Why did the advertising change so starkly just because you're targeting a really rich demographic now?

A quest for fireflies at Kampung Kuantan

For the record, when I was queuing up for a ride in a small wooden boat in Kuala Selangor to catch a glimpse of fireflies in Pahang, there were Arab tourists there too (made up and in jewels and all, but keen to find fireflies nevertheless!). People are multi-faceted. People are not defined by their money, even though we might want to define them as such.

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