In 1987, Langkawi was granted tax-free status by the federal government to spur development of its tourism industry. Since then, the island has shown compounded growth figures, with the number of visitors skyrocketing in recent years. In 2016, Langkawi welcomed almost 3.6 million tourists against 3 million in 2015. With approximately half of the tourists foreign and the half domestic, both categories have grown equally, the latter due to a weaker ringgit and Malaysians deciding to holiday at home.
Currently, Langkawi International Airport welcomes around 230 flights per week while the port in Kuah welcomes ferries from various coastal points in Malaysia and from Satun in Thailand. The Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) is actively tapping into new foreign markets, especially China and India, offering attractive charter programs and incentive packages.
The “Jewel of Kedah“ consists of an archipelago of 104 islands, of which only four are populated. The main island, Langkawi, sits about 30km off the northwestern coast of Malaysia, just north of Penang. From the SkyBridge, a 300m-high bridge accessible by cable car, the Thai island of Koh Lipe is visible during good weather conditions.
In 2007, Langkawi was granted World Geopark status by UNESCO, the first tourist destination in Southeast Asia to receive this coveted title. In the 35 years leading up to this status, scientists and environmentalists extensively studied Langkawi, which now gives an unparalleled insight in the island’s biodiversity and geology. The geopark status gives Langkawi a competitive edge over other islands in the region, but also outlines strict environmental laws to preserve the island constantly under the threat of deforestation and overdevelopment. Langkawi Geopark is also the world’s only geopark that is an archipelago, or island cluster. There are over 90 geological sites around the geopark that are under research and have been shown to possess high heritage value.
The UNESCO status was granted to three parks, of which the Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park is the oldest, with estimates as high as 550 million years old. The park contains the oldest known rocks in the region and show evidence that the geological origins of Malaysia may have begun here. The Kilim Karst Geoforest Park is known for the limestone landscape, an extensive mangrove forest system, beaches, coastal wetlands, and two islands within its limits. Dayang Bunting Geoforest Park, meanwhile, is located on an island, known as the ‘pregnant maiden island’ due to its shape from sea view. The island has a freshwater lake perched on the very edge of the ocean and was formed due to a collapse of an ancient cave system. The Pasir Dagang Cave on the island can be accessed with proper caving equipment and reveals a cavern filled with curtain stalactites and a gigantic limestone chandelier.
Most of the island’s GDP stems from the tourism industry, divided into hospitality, restaurants, and leisure activities, though economic activity is not merely limited to this sector. Malaysia’s maritime champion Boustead Heavy Engineering Corporation (BHIC) has a naval shipyard on the island focusing on manufacturing luxury yachts. Also, the biennial Langkawi International Maritime and Airshow (LIMA), one of the most important gatherings of the industry in the Asia Pacific region, is organized here. The next LIMA will take place in March 2017 at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre (MIEC), adjacent to the terminal at Langkawi International Airport. The event has been organized in Langkawi since 1991 and though it is primarily focused on the defense industry, it has also become a reference point for commercial and business aviation and for civilian shipbuilding and ship repair. In 2015, LIMA welcomed 512 companies from 36 countries and targets 550 companies for this year’s edition.
The developments on the island are under the mandate of LADA, and in 2015, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the Langkawi Tourism Blueprint to further propel the island into travel books across the globe.