Malaysia is with Laos the only country to experience a drop in international tourist arrivals in 2017. According to Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General of Tourism Malaysia, the drop can not only be attributed to factors such as MAS restructuring, border congestion with Singapore -Malaysia number 1 market- or a cut in funding for his agency. Taiyab believes that Malaysia needs also to redefine its image. The Visit Year 2020 is the right opportunity to revert the trend.
Numbers have been disappointed for Tourism Malaysia. Last year, Malaysia is likely to have seen total arrivals decreasing again. According to numbers from January to October, Malaysia international tourist arrivals were down by 2.5% to 21.6 million. If the trend is confirmed for November and December, the country should then be back to just 26 million tourist arrivals compared to 26.8 million in 2016 and a peak at 27.43 million in 2014.
The target of 31.8 million arrivals forecast at the beginning of last year seems very far away. And even more difficult will be the original goal of welcoming 36 million international travellers by 2020. This would represent a jump of 38% in total arrivals in just three years, which means an annual average growth rate of 13%. This is not an impossible task but it will need lots of funding and energy to boost numbers.
“While tourist arrivals are down, we however see an increase in tourism revenues and expenditure per capita, respectively up by 1.9% and 3.2% from January to September of last year”, said Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.
Various reasons have been given to explain the stagnation, if not the decline in tourist arrivals. They are external factors such as the restructuring of Malaysia Airlines network a couple of years ago, which continues to weight on tourist decisions.
“In just a few years time, MAS long-haul network to Europe has totally vanished but London while they are no non-stop flights anymore to the United States. We work with many other airlines but this has been a difficulty for promotion. Although I must say that we have seen in recent months an increase in interest from other carriers to serve Malaysia. We are excited for example about the launching of Doha-Penang by Qatar Airways or Frankfurt-Kuala Lumpur by Condor”, told Taiyab.
Tourism Malaysia has signed marketing partnership with AirAsia, Emirates and most recently Condor among others to promote the destination.
Another negative element is the problem of congestion with long queues between Malaysia and Singapore. “Singapore is our first inbound market with over 10.5 million arrivals. Problems at the border translated into a drop of 6.5% between January and October”, said Tourism Malaysia General Director.
However, not only Singapore was down from January to October. Malaysia recorded decreases in tourist arrivals from Indonesia, India, Japan, the Philippines and the UK. “I must say that we have been less active in overseas activities in recent years due to a cut in our fundings. We also faced infrastructure difficulties with crowded border crossing checkpoints with Indonesia, our second largest market. However, we are now investing again more into promotion in these important markets, particularly Indonesia, India or Japan. For Japan for example, we launched a new campaign which already starts to show results”, added Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.
And then, there is the image of Malaysia which has been affected by external and internal factors. “Acts of terrorism perpetuated by Muslim hardliners certainly can play a negative effect on some markets by discouraging some tourists to visit Muslim countries. We also had some political social issues in Malaysia and this generated some negative headlines”, admitted Tourism Malaysia General Director.
What could be the turn-around for Malaysia? “We have for now a clear message to position the country as a safe family-friendly, family-fun destination. We also want to emphasize that Malaysia is a great nature paradise, especially with its pristine rain forest and its beautiful coastline. We need also to stress back the sense of welcome and dedication of our people towards foreign travellers. This is actually part of our culture” he added.
Other niche themes will look at promoting to some markets medical tourism, culture, education or gastronomy.
A good opportunity is the launch of the Visit Year Malaysia 2020 campaign. Officially launched during the ASEAN Travel Forum by Malaysia Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, the campaign will build awareness for 2020. The tagline for the campaign is “Travel-Enjoy-Respect”. The Ministry and Tourism Malaysia will launch the campaign at ITB Berlin and will be the partner country of the world’s largest travel show in 2019.