Malaysia is to develop a new tourist site on its border with Thailand, in a bid to reverse a fall in Thai visitor numbers.

The new tourist development will be located in Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, which is opposite the Sadao checkpoint, the primary land link between the two countries at Ban Dan Nok in Sadao district of Songkhla province and the northern Malaysian state.

Bukit Kayu Hitam currently has a duty-free shopping centre operated by Quintmas Sdn Bhd, but the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) of Malaysia plans to add more attractions to the 283 hectare (2.83 square kilometre) site near Changlun town, the government’s Bernama news agency reported.

According to Mohd Johari Baharun, special advisor to the Malaysian prime minister, the project will attract Thais across the border to spend money in Malaysia, and will create jobs for locals.

“Right now we only have a duty-free area in Bukit Kayu Hitam. We see many Malaysians travel across the border to Thailand for shopping. Now, it’s time for us to woo Thais to our side of the border,” Mr Mohd Johari said.

Around 1.33 million Malaysians came to Thailand in the first half of this year, a 14% increase from the same period in 2012, according to the Thai Tourism Department.
Last year 2.5 million visitors from Malaysia travelled to Thailand, a 2.17% rise year-on-year, the department said. But only 1.26 million Thais went in the other direction, a 12.4% drop, according to Tourism Malaysia and the Malaysian Immigration Department.

Most Malaysians visited Thailand through the Sa Dao checkpoint to Hat Yai city in Songkhla. Other popular destinations for tourists from the country include Phuket and Bangkok.

Ban Dan Nok has a number of nightlife entertainment venues and shops specifically designed to attract Malaysians crossing the border to Thailand.

The timetable for the completion of the new development at Bukit Kayu Hitam has not been unveiled, but the work will be contracted out to the private sector.

“We will hold discussions with the management of the free trade zone, government agencies and local leaders soon on these projects,” Mr Mohd Johari said.

Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) chief executive Redza Rafiq Abdul Razak said the private sector is well placed to carry out the work.

“It is the best approach to develop Bukit Kayu Hitam, as the private sector had been successful in investing in rural development,” he told Bernama.

Bukit Kayu Hitam is at the northern tip of the North-South Expressway of Malaysia which links the border with Thailand to Singapore at Johor Bahru in Johor state.