Virtual Tour During a Lockdown : How a Qari and His Team revive The Melaka Crocodile Park

When the world went into lockdown, a crocodile park in Melaka lost it’s only source of revenue, walk-in customers. They had to make tough decisions, even let a few members of the staff go. But barely one month into launching their virtual tour, now the number of paying customers exceeds the numbers of walk-in visitors before the lockdown.

The interesting thing is I got to know the General Manager of the park  Ahmad Syarifuddin Mohamad  (Arif) from my local Masjid. He is an Iman there to be more precise he is not just an Imam he is an accomplished Qari. A Qari is somebody who reads the Quran but has a rockstar status. 

General Manager of Taman Buaya & Recreational Park, Mr. Ahmad Syarifuddin Mohamad  (Ariff)

It is difficult to imagine your local imam who leads the prayer in a village Masjid is in charge of hundreds of crocodiles everyday. It defies the typical image that Muslims have of an Imam, But this local Iman is a turnaround expert. His strategy is being replicated by other tourist attractions to sustain their business in these tough times nationwide.  

When the lockdown was announced Ariff admitted that they don’t really know what to do. “There was never a time when the crocodile park had to be closed to visitors, in the beginning we  had no idea on how to sustain ourselves.” 

But Ariff is sure about one thing, they had to think of new ways of generating income to sustain the park. They need 120K a month to manage over 100 crocodiles.

At first they tried to do an adoption program but it did not take off. “Maybe it is too common at that time that every tourist attraction is doing an adoption program”. 

So we started posting our daily activities on social media, ranging from how we do the cleaning to feeding the crocodile. 

They did not do anything new. What they did was  document the activities behind the scene and post on social media in video format. 

One of the videos went viral, and they received a request from teachers to teach about reptiles for online learning. Since then things took off and now they are dedicating 3 days in a week for live shows. 

The number of virtual paying visitors have exceeded the numbers of walk in visitors. Arif  said that even if things get back to the old normal, they will keep on doing the live shows.  

Like many things that went viral, Ariff did not plan for it, it sort of just happened. But in hindsight he gave some tips on what you can do if you are in the tourism industry. First of all it helps if you have a dedicated team member. One character that cannot be ignore is Rizal Manor the crocodile care taker.   

The celebrity crocodile caretaker 

Rizal Manor is one of the staff of the Melaka Crocodile and Recreational Park, is quite a celebrity which plays an important role in making the park shine to stardom. He is always seen getting too close for comfort. You can see his fearless behaviour with dangerous reptiles on his Tiktok account @bedamau

In one of his videos he could be seen telling the crocodile off for misbehaving. The video alone has over 4 million views. Rizal Manor has a very simple philosophy that his life is in the hands of Allah so nothing could ever happen to him that was not destined to happen. 

He did not come out untouch every time, he was bitten by cobra twice and lived to tell about it. That was his destiny.

What to do if you are in the tourism industry 

It is not a public secret that the tourism industry was hit the hardest because of the pandemic. Ariff gave a few tips on how to cope with the lockdown. 

Focus on existing content

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“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you should look at your existing content, and how to present it in an interesting and compelling manner”.

Sometimes your masterpiece is already there, you just don’t know it yet. Because of the lockdown the Crocodile park is now going international; it is attracting  virtual visitors from Singapore and Indonesia. Now they are looking into attracting visitors globally.

Subject Matter

Ariff believes that not every virtual tour can be a success; it is very much dependent on the subject matter in question. In this case the subject is crocodiles, it is something that is out of the ordinary. 

In this case it is the crocodile that is associated with danger and that excites people. The element of perceived danger helps. 

“What we do is done by every crocodile park but it just so happens we capture it on video. Many virtual tours did not take off because they do not have the element that triggers excitement” said Ariff

But honestly, are the staff exposing themselves to unnecessary danger?

Arrif who is a qualified zoology says “What we do is also done in other parks, you need to know the animal that you are dealing with, what makes them tick, while there are general rules but, each animal is their own temperament. ” 

It is just like they have their own Standard Operating Procedure, to interact with the reptiles without compromising on safety.

Choose the right social media

The live virtual tour of the Melaka Crocodile and Recreational Park are held on Facebook as it features, but they have an integrated social media strategy. It helps if you have viral content. There are many viral content that fizzle off after some time. 

“That’s why we started the live virtual tour to capitalise on the momentum of our viral content. You need to strike while the iron is hot, so you can benefit from something that you did not anticipate” said Ariff. 

You also need to understand the dynamics of social media, which platform will help you go viral. “We know from our research that it is easier to go viral on some platforms than others. The easiest place to go viral is Twitter followed, Tiktok and then Instagram. While Facebook is good to engage with your audience” said Ariff.

The most important thing is you do your part and leave the result to Allah.  

Ariff defies the stereotypical image of an Imam, that even Muslims have about the profession, he is not just leading the prayer in a Mosque, has a rock star status when it comes to reading the Quran, but he also excels in his career in an industry that is struggling to stay afloat.

There is a lot of professional Muslims like Ariff out there but they are not highlighted, because they do not fit existing narrative that Muslims, which is Muslim is not capable of great things. in actual fact, there is a lot of game changer Muslims in the world right now. One thing that is noticeable Muslim who has a close relationship in with the Quran, usually excel in their professional life. 

Also Read: Halal Business Ideas: How To Sell On Social Media Without A Website

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