By YS Chan
THE Department of Statistics (DOSM) grouped all domestic tourism expenditures in 2019 under eight categories and percentages. They were shopping (37.8%), automotive fuel (15%), food and beverage (14.3%), visited households (10.2%), accommodation (8.4%), transportation (6.2%), other activities (5%) and before the trip, entrance fees and tickets (3.1%).
As 98.5% of domestic visitors used land transport, automotive fuel was the second highest expenditure. Most domestic tourists stayed at unpaid accommodations provided by relatives or friends (70.9%), followed by hotels (18.5%), homestays or vacation homes (3.8%), apartments (3.6%), rest houses (1.7%) and chalets (1.5%).
The main purposes of domestic visitors, which comprised excursionists on day trips and tourists staying overnight away from home, were for visiting relatives or friends (42.3%), shopping (35.4%), holiday, leisure or relaxation (9%), entertainment, attending special event or sport (4%) and medical treatment or wellness (4%).
Hence, domestic tourism is less by design and more through default, and dependant on disposable incomes and peak during holiday seasons. With COVID-19 infections going up and down, it would be contingent on the types of movement control order (MCO), which includes enhanced MCO (EMCO), conditional MCO (CMCO) and recovery MCO (RMCO).
Although travel agents’ share of domestic tourism expenditure is well below 1%, they play a pivotal role by linking the services of multiple sectors in package tours.
Combining domestic, inbound and outbound expenditures, travel agents’ share rises to 1.8% of the total tourism industry, with the smallest contribution from domestic and highest from outbound.
Most of the domestic package tours sold are to isolated areas where public transport is scarce or when assistance is required to safely explore natural sites in a jungle, mountain, cave, island or under the sea.
However, many nature enthusiasts can manage on their own and tourists looking for soft adventures are relatively few and not enough to support the 4,625 travel agents currently registered with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC).
As the number of foreign tourists in the coming years would only be a fraction of the monthly average of 2.1 million in 2019, inbound tour operators would have to rely on the domestic market for these few years. Those waiting to continue just like before and pick up where they had let off are unlikely to survive.
Although many are determined, almost all are clueless in overcoming existing challenges. But if training seminars are organised for them by MOTAC or various travel associations, they could learn or test their ideas among peers. This would lead to creating unconventional tour packages and highly innovative services that are incredibly attractive and saleable in the tourism market.
It may be true that leaders in both Government and industry are very knowledgeable and have done their part communicating to tourism players. But all these are of no value to tour operators if they cannot be translated into concrete actions to generate income.
Therefore, initiatives that could bring in business almost immediately or develop solid groundwork for tourism to recover are needed.
It should go beyond what have already been announced or repeated in different versions. Over the past decades, tour operators have often been urged by the authorities to be more creative in their tour packages.
Also, the tourism associations, over the past year, have been pleading for more help be given to the industry, as many businesses have perished and more will follow suit.
One of the best ways forward is to conduct training seminars. All ideas, including crazy ones, are welcome during brainstorming. During the workshop, participants would be compelled to explore how the silliest ideas might just work.
Although webinars are great for talking and listening, and can be swiftly organised at minimal cost, but they will not produce the desired results.
Like many others, I also have several great ideas to share in a seminar, which can be held in a day from 9am to 5pm at a hotel’s function room. It can start with a “What I feel like expressing” (Wifle) session to allow participants to get it off their chest and settle down. The chances of finding solutions are better when people use more of their brains than emotions.
The learning outcomes of training seminars will enable large numbers to work on their own or team up on bigger projects, starting with those that bring immediate results. Others may prefer to develop tour services that can put Malaysia on the world map for epic road journeys, or offer unique customs for experiential tourism, exporting Malaysian culture in the process.
In any case, participants that have put in the required efforts will be laughing all the way to the bank, more so after realising that only change is needed to turn failure into success.
Since time immemorial, it was not the strongest of the species that have survived, nor the most intelligent, but those most adaptable to change. And the current global crisis is only a blip in eternity.
The pandemic had inadvertently created an opportunity to unlock the full potential of domestic tourism, and not just figures compiled by DOSM.
By empowering eager tour operators, many tour buses would be running, participating retailers doing roaring business, food and beverage outlets busy serving customers, and hotels again enjoying high occupancy.
But dishing out more of the same will not get us out of this predicament. Think outside the box is easier said than done, and seldom accomplished through solo effort.
Nevertheless, harvesting synergies from likeminded groups in seminars, threats can easily be turned into opportunities.
Finally, will the powers that be take a small step that may well be a giant leap in the right direction for our tourism industry? Or shall we remain as we are and continue with status quo? – March 3, 2021
YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer for travel agencies, master trainer for Travel & Tours Enhancement Course and Mesra Malaysia (both programmes under Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture). He is also a tourism and transport industry consultant and writer.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia