LETTER | I am concerned with the report that Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister has stated that his ministry will continue with the earlier set target for 33.1 million tourists by year-end.
It was only recently the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tourism Malaysia) released its latest arrival figures showing a 3.4 percent drop of visitors for the first four months of this year.
If the number is repeated for the next eight months, visitor arrivals for the whole year will be 25,432,398. This figure is closer to 2013 arrivals of 25,032,708 than the 33.1 million targeted for 2018.
If so, how would Tourism Malaysia explain the huge gap of 7,667,602 between targeted and actual arrivals? In fact, the gap has been widening since 2015 when 29.4 million visitors were targeted but only 25,721,251 arrived or 3,678,749 short.
It was the same in 2016 with 30.5 million targeted and 26,757,392 came, short of 3,742,608. It widened to 5,851,541 when 31.8 million was targeted last year but actual arrivals were 25,948,459.
Would Tourism Malaysia be setting targets at 34.5 million for next year and 36 million for 2020, just as it had consistently raised targeted numbers based on failed targets instead of actual arrivals?
Based on arrivals for the past three years and the projected number for this year, visitors for these four years would total 103,859,500, whereas combined targeted figures total 124,800,000, or 20,940,500 short.
As such, it is meaningless for Tourism Malaysia to continue setting unachievable targets. Instead, it should get real and focus on boosting visitor arrivals using more effective methods.
If arrivals from China for the first four months of this year had remained static, the total drop of all visitors would have been 6.5 percent. Thankfully, the number from China surged by 37.2 percent, from 736,618 to 1,008,998. China visitors are likely to surpass three million this year, overtaking Indonesia as the largest source of visitors after Singapore.
Last year, 2,142,942 visitors from China came to Malaysia while 9.8 million went to Thailand. In 2014, Thailand received a total of 24.78m visitors, less than Malaysia’s 27.44m. But last year, Thailand attracted 35.38 million visitors, whereas Malaysia got only 25.95 million.
Continuing with the same approaches and tourism tax are likely to produce the same dismal results, and unlikely to achieve the 36 million visitors target and RM168 billion in tourism receipts for Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
Inbound tourism promotions need nothing short of a complete overhaul. For example, outbound tourism had been ignored and seen as a rival by Tourism Malaysia, when it could have made use of the 12 million Malaysians travelling overseas annually to act as our country’s ambassadors.
Empowering them to invite the people they meet in foreign countries to visit and have a meal together in Malaysia could easily boost arrivals. It would encourage many Malaysians to act in a friendlier manner overseas and more visitors would come knowing they have a friend in Malaysia.
Malaysians who wish to participate in such a proposed scheme could register and obtain meal vouchers for four persons valid at participating restaurants sponsored by Tourism Malaysia. These restaurants could charge a low rate as they gain from publicity and more business when additional people are brought along for the meal.
Such interaction between foreigners and locals builds deep relationships inducing many tourists to return for repeat visits and exploring other parts of the country, as some may feel that Malaysia is like their second home.
Describing our country as multiracial and multicultural has no effect on tourists, as it would be difficult to find a popular destination which is not. The so-called cultural dances do not depict culture, as stage costumes put on by professional dancers are products of a designer’s fancy, and never won by ordinary folk.
Tourists are increasingly looking for experiential tourism by immersing themselves with the locals and community-based tourism allows large numbers of visitors and residents to interact, which includes learning about each other’s lifestyles and cultures.
But if advertising and promotions are centred on sloganeering or one-way monologues, then it would be like talking to the wall.
Success in inbound tourism promotions require the authorities to fully engage with all stakeholders and this includes visitors and key tourism industry players in the private sector.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.