The number of hawkers in Penang has gradually declined from 2014, according to the Penang Institute, a public policy think tank funded by the state government. In a research paper on "Making Food Hawking in Penang Sustainable", it found that the number of licences issued to food hawkers by the Penang Island City Council had dropped from 3,410 in 2014 to 3,212 in 2018.
This calls for a new challenge to Penang's legacy as a food haven where now very few hawkers are willing to continue its hallowed hawker tradition. Also, according to a recent poll conducted by 35 food hawker, only 20 per cent had a definite plan of continuing the business and taking it further with a proper plan.
Nicholas Chong, Researcher said in an interview recently "Assuming that the average age of a hawker is 50 years, and if he or she continues to work until 60, Penang might see a sharp decline in food hawkers within the next 10 years”. "As such, I do think that we need to start paying more attention to our food hawker population," In the research paper by Chong he highlighted that his face-to-face interviews with about 35 hawkers revealed that most of them fiercely rejected the idea of their children taking over their business. This is because the hawker business is often perceived as a "last" career option for many.
Yeoh Soon Hin, Chairman, Penang Tourism Development, Arts, Culture And Heritage Committee said they have been organising several festivals to promote hawker fare to locals and tourists, in the both domestic and foreign sector. Yeoh added that they were developing an "ecosystem" for the industry to sustain itself. He said "We are trying to develop an environment for the continuity of the hawker (tradition) through recognition and promotional efforts, locally and internationally.
"(This) would help ensure the Penang street food 'brand' thrives and brings in more people to sample our food," he said.
He added, "This is a win-win for both Penang and our hawkers - an increase in the number of tourists will result in an increase in revenue for hawkers."
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