Putting the shine back in Malaysia’s tourism industry

  • Nation
  • Friday, 22 Mar 2019

Token sum: Foreigners will soon have to pay a small tourism tax for staying at hotels in Malaysia. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s tourism industry is facing a challenging time with fewer tourists coming to the country for the past three years, but there’s still a good chance of sunny skies ahead.

The latest figures from Tourism Malaysia's data portal (http://mytourismdata.tourism.gov.my/) show that tourist arrivals fell from 26.76 million in 2016 to 25.95 million in 2017, and then down again to 25.83 million last year.

The drop in 2018 compared to the year before was due mainly to a 14.6% reduction in arrivals from Singapore.

There were 10.62 million Singaporeans who travelled to Malaysia last year, compared with 12.44 million in 2017.


Last year also saw concerns about tourist arrivals from China, with several news reports quoting tourism industry players claiming that there was a drop in arrivals from China.

However, Tourism Malaysia's figures show that the number of tourists from China to Malaysia actually grew in 2018 by 28.9%, from 2.28 million in 2017 to 2.94 million last year.


For Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang, the overall decline in tourist arrivals highlights an urgent need for action.

“Malaysia needs to make a comeback,” he said.

Tan said that since many Singaporeans prefer to drive to Malaysia, more Immigration and Customs lanes should be set up at the Johor Causeway and Second Link checkpoints to facilitate and speed up their entry.

“We also need to increase our marketing efforts to correct any mistaken impression that Malaysia is not safe, especially for self-driving tourists,” he said.

Tan believes that Malaysia needs to come up with new tourism products to better compete with other countries that are also eager to lure tourists from the island republic, including Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

One possible destination in Malaysia which can be marketed more aggressively to Singaporeans, said Tan, includes Ipoh which is said to be increasingly popular among Singaporeans looking for a food trail experience.

Another possible way to woo more tourists may be to focus on countries that show steady increases in tourist arrivals to Malaysia.

Tourism Malaysia’s 2014–2018 arrival figures show Singapore as the top source country for Malaysia’s tourism industry, followed by Indonesia, China, Thailand, and Brunei.


The statistics also reveal several other countries that have shown high growth rates in arrivals for the past five years.

They include Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia, Belgium and Spain.


Tan said a more focused marketing effort is needed to target arrivals from each of these countries.

“Every state in Malaysia has its unique selling points and we need to leverage on it for effective results.

“For example the Russians love beach destinations, Vietnamese and Cambodians enjoy Kuala Lumpur city and shopping, while the Spanish love nature.”

Tan said India was another high potential tourism market for Malaysia due to improving air connectivity, along with European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as well as countries in central and eastern Africa.
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