“Most likely more than 18 mil tourist arrivals this year”

IN my letter, tourist arrivals likely to reach 10 million, which was published last year, I predicted that tourist arrivals could exceed 10 million in 2022 if the monthly average were to be 1.5 million during the last quarter.  

Based on this monthly average, I had also projected that tourist arrivals for 2023 would be 18 million if there was no new outbreak of the coronavirus and more if not impacted by wars or other conflicts.

But later, I was bewildered by a December 2022 report that a research house projected tourist arrivals in the country to jump four-fold to 9.6 million in 2023 from an estimated 2.5 million a year ago on the back of the reopening of international borders. 

Last Tuesday (March 21) Tourism, Arts and Culture Deputy Minister Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan said in the Dewan Rakyat that Malaysia managed to attract 10 million foreign tourists and generate RM28.2 bil in tourism income in 2022. 

Khairul Firdaus Akbar Khan

On the same day, Tourism Malaysia released official figures on its website. It was 10,070,964, with the monthly average at 1,504,894 during the last quarter. Singaporeans again accounted for more than half of all tourist arrivals to Malaysia, as they did in the years from 2012 to 2015. 

If foreign excursionists were to be added, including Singaporeans who came only for shopping and dining, the total number of foreign visitors in 2022 would hit 14,267,416.

In 2019, we had 26,100,784 foreign tourists and 8,944,841 excursionists, for a total of 35 million foreign visitors.  

Tourism Malaysia ought to be lauded for comparing November and December 2022 figures with those of 2019, which should be the benchmark for us to return to normalcy, as tourist arrivals in 2020 were only 4,332,722, and dropped to rock bottom in 2021 with 134,728. 

My letter titled 2020 was bad for tourism, 2021 could be worse was published on Jan 9, 2021, and I projected tourist arrivals for 2020 at 4,332,731. At the end of February, figures released by Tourism Malaysia gave the number as 4,332,722, only nine fewer than my prediction. 

In April 2021, I was interviewed by a reporter who wrote “Down to a trickle” and quoted my projection of 132,000 tourist arrivals for the year, a drop of more than 96% compared to the year before. The number that came was 12,728 more, at 134,728, but offered no consolation. 

I have been following closely the tourist arrival figures and could easily spot any error.

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

However, these targets were missed by a mile as arrivals for 2017 and 2018 were only 25.95 million and 25.83 million respectively. In July 2019, the same minister expressed confidence in achieving 30 million tourist arrivals in 2020 and contributing about RM100 bil in revenue.  

He would have been right had it not been for the outbreak of COVID-19. Globally, tourism grew steadily in the years between the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2002 and COVID-19 in 2020.   

But our tourist arrivals plateaued between 2010 and 2019, averaging 25.8 million per year. Should we have the same opportunity in the coming years, we must do our utmost to take full advantage and could possibly hit a purple patch if everything is in sync.   

We should target nothing less than 18 million tourist arrivals this year and achieve 24 million in 2024, 30 million in Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2025, 36 million in 2026 and 42 million in 2027. Some pundits may dismiss these figures as just a pipe dream.  

Nevertheless, these numbers are low compared to Thailand which is targeting 80 million foreign tourists by 2027. In any case, VMY 2025 should not be geared towards attracting more tourists only for that year.   

The VMY campaign and promotions should also increase tourist arrivals substantially in 2024, 2026, and beyond. — March 23, 2023


YS Chan is master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and the 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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