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Bridging the Gap: Sekinchan's Digital Transformation Journey from Old to New

 Just about 100 km away from the heart of Kuala Lumpur lies Sekinchan, a local village synonymous with lush paddy fields and fresh seafood. The tranquil views and rich local cultures rooted in vibrant tradition make for the perfect weekend road trip for city folks from Klang Valley, Ipoh and beyond.


However, as the pandemic swept across the country, many businesses in rural areas such as Sekinchan saw major disruptions to their business operations. One of these disruptions is the sudden need to digitalize and move operations online. While city dwellers adapted to digital transactions, food delivery services and e-appointments rather quickly, those in rural areas remained a few steps behind. In the past few years, as we witnessed first-hand the widespread shift towards cashless operations around Malaysia, take-up in places such as Sekinchan was low. Seeing the rest of the country reaping the benefits of embracing new technology was the catalyst for locals in this fishing village to consider the same.


One of those locals was Leong of Kayapo. He took over the family business about six years after his mother retired. In line with the tradition of family succession at Kayapo, Leong now runs the business with the help of his son, Billy. In its infancy, Kayapo started as a store selling traditional kaya and “zongzi” (traditional Chinese rice dumplings), made from family recipes passed down through the generations. While his initial plans were to set up shop in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, travel restrictions during the pandemic forced Leong to base his business in Sekinchan, where they largely catered to local customers. 


Not long after that, Sekinchan saw a boom in tourism when borders were opened and restrictions gradually loosened. This continued into 2023, with the town announcing that this would be the “Visit Sekinchan” year. Seeing this change, Leong and Billy shifted their focus to catering to weekend tourists coming from neighbouring cities. As tourists flocked to their shop, Leong and Billy soon realised they needed to do more to keep up with their patrons from big cities. 


Like Leong, many Sekinchan locals have become aware of this influx of tourists as well.  “Last time, many of the customers at this shop were locals. We all knew each other. Now I start to see more and more people I don’t recognise. I’m happy people know about Sekinchan, but I wonder what is there to do here,” shared one of the patrons at Kayapo.


While some locals may wonder about this fascination with Sekinchan, the peaceful countryside undoubtedly offers a respite from the busy city life, boasting a unique charm and interesting activities to explore. From tandem cycling by the paddy fields to playing at the water park and tasting fresh seafood, Sekinchan offers something for people of all ages. 


Perhaps the biggest challenge, especially for smaller vendors, was competing against bigger businesses in terms of marketing and customer experience. As time went by, small family-owned businesses soon realised the pressing need to elevate their trade to cater to the needs and expectations of tourists from big cities. 


One such hawker, Ah Mei, operates out of Plot No. 8 at Pantai Redang. This legendary establishment is well-known for its fried crab dishes, which are the trademark and legacy of Ah Mei’s family, who are long-time Sekinchan residents. She realised that as a small stall, she had to offer a customer experience that was on par with the bigger businesses to be able to compete on equal ground. For her, a vital step was going digital – enabling cashless payments to customers, catering especially to tourists from Klang Valley.


Ah Mei quickly embraced digitalisation and offered QR payment options at her store. She has not looked back since then. She shared how thrilled she was to witness the convenience and growth opportunities that come with cashless payments. “The QR code makes it easier for people to pay at the stall and now, I have more customers. Also, I don’t have to worry about carrying cash around all the time,” she added.


This is a sentiment echoed by Sivabalan, who sells fresh flowers. For 14 years, Sivabalan has been running his family’s flower business at the local market. Going cashless brought his business to great heights by providing more convenience to him and his customers. Seeing how fuss-free and quick payments can be with DuitNow QR codes was a great relief to him. Gone are the days when customers scrambled for spare change. “Actually, the system is not complicated, they only had to teach us once and we could easily understand,” he rejoiced.  


Seeing the potential that cashless transactions can bring to Sekinchan, Hong Leong Bank (HLB) decided to offer its products and expertise to help these local businesses and communities grow and recover from a tough few years. The bank started by allaying the locals' concerns and scepticism on the ground regarding the technology. Using practical approaches, HLB met with local vendors face-to-face and organised activities in collaboration with community leaders in Sekinchan. Through this, they managed to inspire the community to digitalize and go cashless, a testament to the importance of having the right approach and effective communication to motivate change.


Speaking on the improvements that digitalisation has brought to the village, Yang Berhormat Tuan Ng Suee Lim, assemblyman of Sekinchan stated, “I am thrilled to see how our transition to a cashless economy could open up new possibilities for Sekinchan. By embracing digital payments, we are putting Sekinchan on the map as a village on par with big cities. The ‘Visit Sekinchan 2023’ campaign is a great showcase of how digitalisation can transform economies and communities. I applaud HLB for their cashless initiative, as well as the locals who are adopting it, as this move will strengthen our local economy and set the stage for the growth of Sekinchan.”


With the success of HLB’s cashless campaign in Sekinchan, the fishing village now serves as a blueprint for other small towns and villages in Malaysia to adopt a cashless ecosystem as well. The Bank has proven that with the right approach and support, rural towns can learn to embrace cashless payments, which can elevate the tourist experience and help smaller businesses grow in tandem with larger ones.


Project Cashless Lagi Senang by HLB plays a crucial role in bridging the digital divide between the urban and rural areas of Malaysia. As for the town of Sekinchan, this digital transformation means bigger growth in terms of income and livelihood. With domestic tourism on the rise and the timely launch of the “Visit Sekinchan 2023” campaign, the community is excited and ready to show tourists what’s in store for them in this charming seaside village.