These are belt-tightening days but Malaysians have not let Scrooge steal their holidays. The weak ringgit means vacationing abroad is a costly affair, so domestic travel is peaking at a rate that is beyond the expectation of tour operators.
IT’S a happy problem for operators of domestic tourism in Malaysia.
A number of these industry players are finding it hard these days to cope with the sheer volume of travellers, most of whom are locals.
The Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) had expected a 10% increase in the number of trips taken by Malaysians within the country this year.
“But at this rate, we can easily meet this expectation or even surpass it,” Mita president Uzaidi Udanis tells Sunday Star.
He says there have been cases where tour operators do not even have enough buses to accommodate all guests, be they foreigners or Malaysians.
“As such, some have resorted to getting temporary bus permits while others pull their resources together,” he says.
This was especially the case when Malaysia received larger groups of tourists from China earlier this month due to the republic’s Golden Week – a week-long holiday to celebrate its national day.
That week has ended but Malaysian tourism players have to prepare for the next big thing – the month-long school holidays at the end of the year.
“Operators are enjoying good business but they have to improve on managing logistics. Hopefully the lack of buses can be resolved soon,” Uzaidi says.
Domestic tourism has been growing steadily in the past few years.
In 2015, a total of 235.2 million trips were made by Malaysians around the country. This rose by 8% to 253.9 million trips last year, according to the Domestic Tourism Survey 2016 conducted by the Department of Statistics Malaysia.
This year is also no exception, says Uzaidi, with the rise fuelled by 11 long weekends this year, thanks to public holidays which fall on Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays.
Last year, there were nine of such weekends.
“Travelling is becoming a must for most Malaysians. They must go travelling with their family or friends at least once a year,” he says.
Encouraged by the positive trend in domestic tourism, Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin wants to keep the momentum going.
“Next year, we will continue strengthening our efforts to promote domestic tourism through the Cuti-cuti 1Malaysia Dekat Je campaign.
“It will also rev up the local industry ahead of Visit Malaysia Year 2020,” she says.
Concurring that Malaysians are more likely to spend their holidays here amid the challenging economy, Mas Ermieyati points out that such activity will in turn, strengthen the ailing ringgit.
“It will help plug the outflow of ringgit to other countries at a time of global economic uncertainty,” she says.
Next year, the ministry is targeting to have 72.6 million domestic tourists with an expected tourism revenue of RM51.2bil – a sum almost 6% higher than last year’s revenue of RM48.4bil from 66 million visitors.
But for now, Mas Ermieyati is suggesting a slew of initiatives to be included in the Budget 2018, which will be tabled in Parliament this Friday.
One of it is to widen participation in local tourism fairs to boost public awareness on the various attractions the country has to offer.
Another is to expand special and unique tourism segments like agro-tourism and eco-tourism, which is gaining popularity.
“The ministry wants to increase foreign tourist arrivals as well, by encouraging excursionists, who cross the country’s borders into Malaysia for day trips, to become tourists, who spend more time here,” she says.
She also proposes for Tourist Information Centres to be upgraded and expanded to not only provide information but also serve as one-stop centres for selling tourism packages, concert tickets and booking accommodation.
Rather than getting turned off from travelling, the fluctuating ringgit led Malaysians to change their travel patterns by going to destinations closer to home, says Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.
But even so, he observes that Malaysia’s outbound tourism remains resilient, albeit with people being more careful.
“Malaysians still travel abroad despite the weak market but they are more cost-conscious,” he says.
Malaysia is even expected to record the highest ratio of outbound travel in relation to the total number of households, based on a report by Mastercard on the future of outbound travel in Asia-Pacific between 2016 and 2021.
“The report reveals that Malaysians made an estimated 11.9 million international outbound travel trips last year. The number is predicted to grow by an average of 3.5% annually to reach 14.2 million trips by 2021,” Tan says.
However, Malaysian Association of Hotels president Sam Cheah believes that the weakening ringgit has caused locals to have less disposable income for holidays.
“Some hotels do not see any growth in the domestic market and is weakening too.
“Nonetheless, resorts and hotels will usually enjoy plenty of bookings during the school holidays,” he says.