Archaeo-Tourism Activist Goes Digital to Stay Productive and Attract Enthusiasts

Staying productive in the midst of multiple lockdowns and travel restrictions during the pandemic isn’t easy, especially in the tourism industry. However, there are various ways to consistently generate productivity whether it be minute in nature or even through a grand display. The archaeo-tourism sector in Malaysia, although it isn’t so well-known for leisure travellers other than history enthusiasts, is continuously looking into productivity efforts throughout lockdowns and the duration of the pandemic, particularly on promoting the Lenggong Valley.

The Lenggong Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July, 2021. This declaration is nothing short of monumental, particularly for the archaeological community in Malaysia as the site sports the findings of many archaeo-treasures, especially ‘Perak Man’, the oldest complete human skeleton found in Southeast Asia dating back to 11,000 years ago.

Later, ‘Perak Woman’ was also discovered in a separate Lenggong archaeological site in Gua Teluk Kelawar dated to 8,000 years ago. These discoveries have motivated both professional and amateur archaeologists to pursue this line of interest due to the exciting discoveries.

However, despite the UNESCO declaration, the Lenggong Valley did not appear to be getting enough attention particularly from locals to visit and learn its ancient Paleolithic to Neolithic history of Malaysia. As a result, the Lenggong Valley is deemed as ‘underground’ as compared to its fellow UNESCO-inscribed heritage sites Malacca and George Town, which not only boast numerous landmarks but also their unique cultures and a wide variety of attractions.

Archaeo-tourism is a niche within the tourism industry as many believe that it only attracts archaeologists or history enthusiasts to visit the available sites. But for some, the Lenggong Valley is another unique item travellers must tick in their UNESCO World Heritage Sites bucket list.

To garner more attention from locals and out-of-staters, Mazlan Mahmud, an archaeo-activist expedition leader has designed a basic compact two-day/one-night package that is open to all interested participants regardless of background, to foster further interest in this archaeo-heritage sector.

This package is known as more than just an archaeological expedition as it not only examines Lenggong’s archaeological sites but also the geological sites around the area, with a touch of local culture wrapped in. Other archaeo-treasures include the wide variety of caves and formations found within the Lenggong Valley. One hill, Bukit Bunoh, boasts a 1.83-million-year-old meteorite impact site, also the Toba Volcano Eruption ash deposit at Bukit Sapi from the super-eruption 74,000 years ago and even cave rock art by local aborigines in Gua Badak.

Participants will even have the opportunity to make their own stone tools from pebble stones as well as learn hunting techniques from a Lenggong archaeo-hunter.

As both a ‘minds-on educational’ and ‘hands-on experiential’ trip, Mazlan Mahmud collaborated with world-renowned Professor Dato’ Dr. Mokhtar Saidin, the Director of the Centre for Global Archaeological Research (PPAG in Malay) in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) to provide an authentic experience for participants as they will be interacting closely with real-life field archaeologists. Participants will also have the opportunity to then explore the rest of the Lenggong Valley including traditional villages and Malay houses, cool rivers and scenic lakes, plus much more.

To-date, Mazlan has led eight expeditions with an intimate capacity of 20 participants maximum per expedition, making it a total of 160 travellers who have participated in this package.

As these expeditions encourage Malaysians from all walks of life to start appreciating the history and culture of the Lenggong Valley, Mazlan’s efforts have been fruitful.

His aim once things get back to a semblance of normalcy is to lead these expeditions every month.

Halting of Expedition Due to The Pandemic

To begin with, introducing the expedition to potential participants is no easy feat and often require many in-person interactions to elicit interest from the public. Nonetheless this doesn’t deter Mazlan as it is part of his passion that he takes in stride. However, the lockdowns which began since March, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic brought most of the expedition activities to a halt.

With no way to perform on-site expeditions due to the interstate travel ban, Mazlan has instead shifted his focus towards adopting digitalisation to further promote his expeditions.

Digitalisation is often one of the only options left for tourism players to remain relevant to the public eye. As expedition leader, Mazlan has adopted several methods in using the digital sphere as an effort to recruit more participants to follow future expeditions once lockdown is lifted.

Impact of Digitalisation Efforts during The Pandemic

As his expedition requires a lot of information in order to promote, Mazlan participated in several virtual talk shows and online information sessions to attract the general public.

One particular information session through the Zoom virtual platform was attended by 30 students from several local universities across Malaysia.

Mazlan was featured in the online talk show series, Let’s Talk About Lenggong (LTAL) organised by Tourism Productivity Nexus, hosted by Zamiel and Isvaran as industry players. This online series is to further higlight Lenggong as a special tourism attraction while engaging in higher productivity in Perak as a whole, despite the limitations due to the pandemic.

Being featured in popular online talk shows such as Bicara Bersama Atika & Nadge, also attracted firm interest for future tours, while popularising Lenggong in general. His participation on online platforms has increased his visibility which can further encourage players to utilise technology.

Indeed, the talk shows where Mazlan was the guest speaker also saw a surge in support through the comments section and an increased viewership. Even the sharing of minute details is important to help people understand that the findings in Lenggong give a profound impact on enthusiasts, aside from its UNESCO heritage status as higher factor.

Talk shows can exhibit high engagement during the Question & Answer session, which highlight the success in generating public interest in participating in the archaeo-tourism sector, particularly Mazlan’s expeditions.

This also includes inquiries about his other expedition sites such as the ones in Kedah and Guar Kepah, Penang, and even inquiries about potential integration with these expedition sites as a ‘triangle archaeo-tourism package’. This actually came about during the Atika & Nadge talk show segment. This triangle is definitely something in Mazlan’s future plans.

In addition to this, Mazlan also engaged messaging applications such as WhatsApp to network with interested participants. This is done through creating discussion groups for also future announcements. So far, Mazlan has been able to garner 120 enquiries on the expeditions he offers with more enquiries coming in as of 27 June.

He has also created a Facebook page called ‘Lenggong Valley, UNESCO World Heritage Expedition Team’ with an aim of attracting social media users to learn about Lenggong’s archaeological and geological sites as well as local culture for his expedition marketing and announcements.

Mazlan also highlighted that even participants with minimal interest in archaeology enticed to the expedition have in fact been converted into enthusiasts due to the enjoyable itinerary that is offered.

He further explained that these participants will end up promoting the expedition out of their own volition to their friends and colleagues, which creates a domino effect due to word-of-mouth, making this as one of the best forms of marketing for his expeditions.

The combination of both marketing through conventional and digital means plus from word-of-mouth in both has provided a sustainable cycle of increasing awareness on his archaeological offerings.

From positive exposure through participating in talk shows, which in turn provides the viewers the ability to inquire on-the-spot during the live session, and WhatsApp marketing to ensure constant contact with interested inquiries, these extra efforts proved to be beneficial in staying relevant while arousing interest during the pandemic.

Support from past participants during the talk shows further consolidates their experiences for new viewers who are interested in the expedition.

Despite the pandemic halt in activities, the shift towards digitalisation has proved to be beneficial for Mazlan as it has not only provided a different outlet for him to promote his expeditions and packages but also an opportunity to promote the attractively quaint town of Lenggong as well.

Productivity Not Limited To Physical Activities

The use of technology to generate consistent productivity and promotion for Mazlan’s expedition has seen tremendous interest from local enthusiasts. As productivity isn’t limited to what one can do physically, the technological shift due to the effects of the pandemic has in fact, encouraged operators to be more digitally literate.  

To watch Tourism Productivity Nexus’ series, Let’s Talk About Lenggong where they talk extensively to Lenggong tourism operators head on over to their Youtube Channel here.