Get the most out of VMY 2026

THE first Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) was in 1990 with the theme “Fascinating Malaysia. Year of Festivals”. The Sultan Abdul Samad building was used as the logo as it was then the landmark, and the mascot was an orangutan. The song “To Know Malaysia is to Love Malaysia” was frequently on the air.

It was a resounding success as tourist arrivals shot up by 54% from 4.8 million in 1989 to 7.4 million in 1990. Later, the authorities got greedy by designating another VMY just four years after 1994 but recorded only 7.13 million tourist arrivals.

However, there were two different arrival figures for VMY 1994 posted by Tourism Malaysia. One is 7.13 million as found in numerous publications over the years and the other at 10.22 million, which is currently stated on the ‘Campaign’ page of its website.

The theme for VMY 1994 was “Fascinating Malaysia. Naturally More”, and for VMY 2007 “Celebrating 50 years of Nationhood” including the call for action “The time is now. The place is Malaysia”. In 1999, the ever-popular slogan “Malaysia Truly Asia” was introduced.

The third VMY in 2007 was a huge success as the then Tourism Ministry made a stupendous effort to get 20,000 tourism front-liners trained under Mesra Malaysia, Tourism English, and Think Tourism. Tourist arrivals jumped from 17.5 million in 2006 to almost 21 million in 2007.

The fourth VMY was in 2014 and the theme was “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia”. The proboscis monkey, known for its large fleshy nose, was chosen as the mascot. “We Are The Host” was introduced by Tourism and Culture Ministry to replace earlier training programmes.

(Pic credit: Tourism Malaysia)

VMY 2014 attracted 27.44 million tourist arrivals, still a record high until today. However, it is again puzzling why the ‘Campaign’ page of Tourism Malaysia’s website stated, “more than 28 million in tourist arrivals”. It was below 28 million and the exact number was 27,437,315.

The next VMY was scheduled for 2020 with the theme “Visit Truly Asia Malaysia” but was cancelled due to the pandemic. If not, it would have been very embarrassing for the authorities as it would have failed just as miserably as Vision 2020, which was given only lip service.

After the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) was first announced in 2011 with the target of attracting 36 million foreign tourists and earning RM168 bil in tourism receipts annually by 2020, many people jumped on the tourism bandwagon.

However, efforts by the powers that be were grossly inadequate, and measures lacking in effectiveness, especially after 2014. In the ensuing years from 2015 to 2019, tourist arrivals were 25.72 million, 26.76 million, 25.95 million, 25.83 million, and 26.1 million respectively, averaging 26.1 million per year.

Inexplicably in July 2018, then Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said the target of 33.1 million tourist arrivals for the year would be maintained, higher than the 2017 target of 31.8 million.

These figures were missed by a mile, as arrivals were only 25.95 million in 2017 and 25.83 million in 2018. Be that as it may, much water has flowed under the bridge and our focus now should be on the coming years culminating in VMY 2026.

Last October, while delivering his speech in the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that the next VMY has been set for 2026 and the target is to attract 26.1 million foreign tourists and earn RM97.6 bil in inbound tourism expenditures.

Recently, at the launch of Visit Melaka Year 2024 during the New Year’s Eve celebration in Melaka, Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing said the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (MOTAC) is now targeting 35.6 million foreign tourists and RM147.1 billion in expenditures for VMY 2026.

Bravo! Raising the tourist arrivals target for 2026 by a hefty 36.4% will be a huge undertaking and requires a lot of effort and hard work. But Tiong appears undaunted by the challenges, and he is intent on getting the job done. This can only augurs well for our tourism industry.

Lest we forget, VMY is not just for the designated year only but also includes the years leading to it, which are 2024 and 2025, and the period after 2026. It cannot stand alone as things cannot suddenly start to happen on Jan 1, 2026, and cease immediately after Dec 31 of the same year.

(Pic credit: Shutterstock)

Last March, I proposed that we should aim for 24 million tourist arrivals in 2024, 30 million in 2025, 36 million in 2026, and 42 million in 2027. I did not continue to go higher as we will be reaching our maximum potential based on existing resources, practices, and mindsets.

Here, I would like to reiterate my take on the “Malaysia Truly Asia” slogan. Ask any Malaysian or tourist guide, they could only offer a superficial explanation, forgetting that many countries around the world, especially their cities, are even more multi-racial and cultural than ours.

We should go beyond the usual narratives. To me, “Malaysia Truly Asia” is more than just a slogan, it is a historical fact. Melaka in its heyday more than 500 years ago, 84 languages were spoken by the ethnically diverse population. It was then “Melaka Truly Asia”.

Not long after Melaka was founded over 600 years ago, it started to receive trade envoys from China, including Admiral Zheng He. With protection from attacks by Siam and Majapahit. Melaka steadily grew and became the largest port in Southeast Asia by embracing diversity.

Today, this inclusiveness is even more important. In countries where people live in harmony, societies continue to prosper. On the other hand, there is little progress, even regress, where exclusiveness is practised by the majority intimidating others over race, religion or language.

Likewise, nations and states that receive the greatest number of foreign or domestic visitors are perceived to be the friendliest to outsiders, whether institutionalised in policies or regulations, or by unfriendly behaviors of service providers, or by the indifference of locals towards visitors.

These things cannot change overnight, not by merely designating 2024 as Visit Melaka, Perak, Perlis, or Kelantan. It takes years of genuine efforts by the government, industry, and people. An effective way to address this is through Mesra Malaysia, a training programme by MOTAC. – Jan 3, 2024


Main pic credit: Laingbuisson News


YS Chan is master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel & Tours Enhancement Course as well as an Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a transport and training consultant and writer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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