THE stage is set for a bruising battle but for local tourism players, the general election is likely to be a boon for business.
Even quiet, sleepy towns will have an adrenaline rush, attracting travellers curious about the election candidates, besides the usual hordes of Election Commission staff, media personnel, political party workers or voters returning to their hometowns.
Local tourism industry players like homestays, hotels, restaurants and vehicle rental services are also preparing for an influx of customers.
The Tourism and Culture Ministry foresees business for these sectors to ramp up when the election is called, based on the trend in previous years.
“The GE14 fever is expected to increase domestic travel by at least 20% throughout the period between nomination day and the polling date,” deputy minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin told Sunday Star recently.
This is consistent with previous trends recorded by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) during the last general election in 2013, especially during the nomination date on April 20 and voting day on May 5.
Domestic travel rose by 18.4% in April 2013 compared to the same month a year before, according to data from the DOSM.
“In May 2013, there was a 13.2% hike in domestic trips compared to May 2012.
“The number of visitors also increased from 12.2 million in April 2013 to 12.9 million the next month,” Mas Ermieyati said.
In line with the higher domestic travel due to the GE14, she said the amount of domestic tourism expenditure will also likely increase by 4% this year based on the trend in previous years.
Expenses for shopping, food and beverage, transportation, accommodation and others increased by 4.4% from RM44.2bil in 2015 to RM48.4bil in 2016, according to a Tourism Malaysia report on domestic tourist expenditure components for 2016.
As for the local hotel industry, a small spike in domestic guests is anticipated.
Mas Ermieyati said the average occupancy rate in hotels for this year was expected to go up by about 0.2% compared to last year.
This is similar to the scenario in 2013 when a total of 34.3 million domestic visitors had stayed in hotels nationwide, with the average occupancy rate increasing to 62.6% from 62.4% in 2012.
Data from Tourism Malaysia showed that there was a 60.9% average occupancy rate in hotels from January to October last year.
Meanwhile, industry players are looking forward to the extra traffic of visitors during GE14.
Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis said in previous by-elections, local tourism thrived due to the high demand.
Prices would also shoot up and such places would receive national attention since the poll is only concentrated in one area.
“While the focus is scattered during general elections, there will still be higher demand compared to usual times and we are eagerly anticipating it,” said Uzaidi.
He added that accommodation, car rental services and local restaurants will enjoy more customers from out of town.
“Areas like Melaka, Kota Baru, Kota Kinabalu, Penang and Terengganu will have full or almost full occupancy during the general polls,” Uzaidi said, adding that such locations already receive high numbers of international visitors.
For Malaysians like customer service executive Moh Boon Keat who are registered voters in their hometowns but are working elsewhere, they are heading home to cast the ballot.
Moh, 36, says he will be taking two to three days of leave to be back in Penang.
“If there is an interesting ceramah around my area, I wouldn’t mind going there to listen.
“The experience of being at a ceramah is something you can’t get from watching TV,” he adds.
And since he only goes back to his hometown three times a year, Moh says it is a “must” to enjoy all his favourite food before he goes back to work in Kuala Lumpur.
“My must-haves are char kuey teow, curry mee, hokkien mee, loh mee, and duck kuey teow soup.”
“Places will be crowded but still tolerable,” he says.
Some foreign tourists have even expressed interest in checking out the atmosphere in hotly contested areas, including the Prime Minister’s constituency in Pekan, Pahang.
“Some China tourists have asked me about it because they are curious about our general election,” said Uzaidi.
For Sekinchan assemblyman Ng Suee Lim, “election tourists” are common, especially during by-elections when all eyes are fixated on one constituency.
“The attention will be spread out during the GE14.
“But curious travellers will most likely head to places with high profile clashes like Ayer Hitam, Teluk Intan and maybe Langkawi, if Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Pakatan Harapan chairman) decides to contest there,” he said.
While Sekinchan is already a well-known agro-tourism attraction, Ng said he hoped the spike in domestic tourism, as a side-effect of the GE14, will spur the local economy and benefit the residents there.
However, Malaysian Association of Hotels president Sam Cheah said there are fewer group bookings for hotels these days.
“It is rather slow paced at the moment, unlike the last election.
“There are many other options for accommodation now including homestays, kampung stays and rooms through AirBnB,” he said.
Nevertheless, Cheah said local hotels are continuously having promotions to attract guests, mostly through deals over their websites and online platforms.