Malaysia recorded 29 million visitor arrivals in 2023

LAST year, Malaysia recorded almost 29 million visitor arrivals, and they comprised 20,141,846 foreign tourists and 8,822,462 foreign excursionists, or a total of 28,964,308 foreign visitors.

Most tourist arrivals were by Singaporeans (8,308,230), Indonesians (3,108,165), Thais (1,551,282), Chinese (1,474,114), Bruneians (811,833), Indians (671,846). South Koreans (400,853), Vietnamese (344,361), Australians (343,438), and Filipinos (339,282).

Together, they added up to 17,353,404 or over 86% of the total tourist arrivals in 2023.

Most excursionist arrivals were by Singaporeans (6,520,323), Thais (748,876), Indonesians (371,227), Bruneians (304,378), Chinese (139,198), Filipinos (122,505), Indians (101,375), South Koreans (64,764), Australians (57,471) and Japanese (47,667).

Combined, they add up to 8,477,784 or over 96% of the total excursionist arrivals in 2023.

While tourists stay for at least one night in Malaysia, excursionists leave the same day and do not spend on accommodation. However, they contribute significantly to tourism expenditures, mainly in transport services, shopping, food and beverage.

While it is no surprise that most excursionists came from neighbouring countries, many were also from countries very far away such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Last year, there were 34,629 British and 28,057 American excursionists to Malaysia.

It was unlikely that most would fly from their home country just to be in Malaysia for a few hours. It was more likely that many were residing in neighbouring countries or illegally working there and on a visa run to refresh their visa-free stay for another 30 or 90 days.

The number of excursionist arrivals last year was just 1.4% lower than the 8,944,841 recorded in 2019. As for tourist arrivals last year, it was 22.8% lower than the 26,100,784 in 2019. Hence, Tourism Malaysia is now targeting 27.3 million tourist arrivals this year.

This is a far cry from the announcement made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when tabling Budget 2024 last October, declaring that the next Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) has been set in 2026, targeting 26.1 million tourist arrivals and RM97.6 billion in tourism revenue.

About a year ago, I proposed that we should aim for 30 million tourist arrivals in 2025, 36 million in 2026, and 42 million in 2027.

Many had dismissed my projections as nothing more than a pipe dream, but all these figures would be surpassed if we achieve 27.3 million this year.

(Pic credit: Unsplash)

Nevertheless, we are likely to plateau out at 42 million, unless there is a boost in the capacity of transport services and terminals, safe and secure accommodations, hygienic foods and toilet facilities at eateries, and politicians toning down their rhetoric on race, religion and language.

We should always be mindful of foreign tourists’ top sources of information on Malaysia, and they are from friends and relatives who have visited Malaysia (94.4%), their own experience (85.1%), internet (74.4%), and friends and relatives living in Malaysia (53.2%).

No amount of promotions could override the above influences. Hence, the number of foreign tourists to Malaysia is not evenly distributed across 13 states and three federal territories. Visitors are bound to avoid less tourist-friendly states and go to where they feel more welcome.

Citizens from China and India see Malaysia as more tourist-friendly after they were granted visa-free entry from last December.

The first and most lasting impression of our country is in the hands of our immigration officers, who may have the greatest impact on visitor arrivals.

Likewise, the genuine friendliness of our tourism personnel has a far greater effect than all tourism promotions combined.

The record high number of tourists that came in VMY 2014 would be surpassed once training is stepped up for front-liners in both public and private sectors. – Feb 20, 2024

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