Visitor arrival figures for the whole of last year were recently released by Tourism Malaysia. There were 26,757,392 arrivals, an overall increase of four percent over the previous year.
Visitors from 33 countries decreased by 687,044, a drop of 15 percent, but arrivals from the top five countries increased by 1,746,609, with seven others contributing another 80,980.
Countries from the rest of the world combined dropped by 27.5 percent, with 104,404 fewer visitors. Together with the decrease from 33 countries, the total reduction was 791,448.
The increase of visitors from 12 countries totalled 1,827,589, resulting in a net gain of 1,036,141 tourists last year, after deducting 791,448.
The biggest increase came from China with 447,779 more tourists, followed by Thailand (437,231), Singapore (342,207), Indonesia (261,931) and Brunei (257,461).
This year, Malaysia is targeting for an increase of 1,875,058 visitors from China, from 2,124,942 to four million.
It may appear ridiculous but then, 8.76 million China tourists visited Thailand last year, despite the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October.
China visitors hold the key to success of our tourism industry as their potential for growth is phenomenal. Coupled with their reputation as the world’s biggest spenders, countries around the world have been welcoming them with open arms.
But they could easily be turned away by local hostility or their safety being compromised, as bad news spread faster than wildfire using social media.
Arrivals from another Asian giant were disappointing. There was a decrease of 83,563 Indian tourists, a drop of 11.6 percent.
However, Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz announced on March 7 that visa fees for Indian nationals would be waived, with the aim of increasing their numbersfrom 638,578 last year to one million this year.
However, the biggest drop was from the Philippines with 137,471 fewer tourists. More worrisome are two high yield markets, as their number dropped by 109,221 from Australia and 69,801 from Japan.
Visitors from 13 European countries, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, Norway and Belgium combined totalled 1,038,542 in 2015, but dropped to 955,836 last year.
However, the number of visitors from seven other countries with an increase of arrivals totalled 965,974. They were from South Korea (444,439), Taiwan (300,861), Saudi Arabia (123,878), Laos (31,061), Egypt (30,231), Iraq (22,533) and Ukraine (12,971).
On the average, 73,308 visitors entered Malaysia daily last year and the number will go up to 98,630 in 2020 if 36 million arrived as targeted.
All these are huge numbers and tourism players will have to concentrate on their own niche market instead of building castles in the air.
Apart from offering value-for-money goods or services, they must be convincing with their unique selling propositions to attract local and foreign customers.