GEORGE TOWN,. The Penang government is looking to impose tighter restrictions on commercial activities along the clan jetties in George Town, as more residents convert their houses there into souvenir shops, capitalising on the Unesco heritage city’s booming tourism.
Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Daniel Gooi Zi Sen said they can’t stop the residents from starting a variety of businesses in the clan jetties but they can introduce restrictions to discourage them.
Ever since the inscription of George Town as a world heritage site, droves of tourists have made a beeline for the jetties where rows upon rows of meandering wooden houses built long ago for the ethnic Chinese clans jut out over the water.
The tourism boom at these jetties, particularly Chew Jetty, has led to crass commercialisation as residents try to cash in on the visitors.
Once an idyllic village on stilts overlooking the sea, Chew Jetty is now a garish display of colourful running lights at night and a long row of generic souvenir shops selling generic mass-produced keychains, t-shirts and fridge magnets.
Gooi said these souvenir shops have become one of the main source of income for the residents so this matter must be tackled sensitively.
“Under the Special Area Plan for the heritage zone, the clan jetties are listed as living quarters and if we don’t do something to control the commercialisation, it might affect the outstanding universal value of the heritage zone,” he said in a interview with Malay Mail.
While Chew Jetty is over-commercialised, Gooi said the adjoining clan jetties are still mostly residential with minimal commercialisation.
One of the proposed restrictions for the clan jetties is to fix a certain percentage of commercial space for each unit, he said.
“We can come up with a formula where a larger percentage of the space of each unit must be allocated for living space while they are only allowed minimal space for commercial activities,” he said.
This way, he said the residents can continue to earn an income from the tourism industry while at the same time, continue to live there and preserve the outstanding universal value (OUV) of the site.
The OUV refers to a set criteria for properties, culture or living heritage of a place that determines its inscription as a Unesco heritage status.
Gooi said he is also working with George Town World Heritage Incorporated to come up with a “Made in George Town” product that tells the stories of George Town.
“We have so many stories to tell, we are so rich in culture and customs that we need more young people in the creative industry to come up with products to tell these stories,” he said.
Instead of cheap imported souvenirs, Gooi said the local creative industry could come up with conceptual products that project the image of George Town while at the same time, tell its stories.
“We need to tell our stories and make it international,” he said.
The clan jetties, consisting of the different clans of Chew, Lim, Tan, Yeoh and mixed surnames, were early Chinese immigrant settlements that were built in the 19th century.
The wooden village houses on stilts were built along the wooden piers that jutted out into the sea and many families continue to live there till today.
In recent years, some of the residents have moved out due to the influx of visitors to the area and rented their homes to businesses or turned it into homestays.