LETTER | The population of Malaysia, at 32 million, is much less than the larger Asean countries with Myanmar having 53 million, Thailand 69 million, Vietnam 96 million, Philippines 103 million and Indonesia 267 million.
As Malaysians love to travel, they are among the top 10 visitors to 16 countries spread across the region. This has attracted many foreign national tourism organisations to set up marketing offices in Kuala Lumpur or participate in travel fairs, particularly the Matta Fair.
The largest number of tourists to Brunei is from Malaysia and they are the second largest to Thailand, third largest to Indonesia, fourth largest to Singapore, fifth largest to India, sixth largest to Taiwan, seventh largest to Vietnam, Australia and South Korea, eighth largest to Cambodia, Macao and Japan and tenth largest to Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and China.
Malaysians are also the eleventh largest visitors to Hong Kong, twelfth largest to New Zealand, fourteenth largest to Nepal and twenty-eighth largest to the UK with 85,000 annually. Another 31,300 Haj and 290,000 Umrah pilgrims head for Saudi Arabia every year.
These 21 countries combined accounted for 90 percent of the12.3 million Malaysians that travelled overseas last year. The number is expected to reach 12.7 million this year, 13.2 million in 2019, 13.7 million in 2020 and 14.2 million in 2021.
While the number of Malaysian tourists to Singapore last year was only 6.7 percent of all visitors, Singaporeans contributed a hefty 48 percent of all visitors to Malaysia. If arrival figures for Malaysian and Singaporean visitors are excluded, Singapore received 16,256,227 tourists from other countries combined, far higher than 13,506,740 for Malaysia.
The country that received the greatest number of Malaysian tourists is our northern neighbour with many entering south Thailand by road or rail, while others fly to Hat Yai, Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other destinations. Last year, 3,354,800 Malaysians contributed 9.5 percent of the total 35,381,210 visitors to Thailand.
Surprisingly, more Malaysians visited Vietnam than Thailand, Cambodia and Laos combined and there were more Malaysians visiting Laos than its southern neighbour Cambodia. This showed that a sizeable number of Malaysians are drawn to less developed countries.
The country that received the second largest number of Malaysians that travelled overseas was Indonesia with 1,238,276. This was followed by Singapore (1,168,384) and China (1,165,000). But what comes next is interesting.
Thanks to effective promotional efforts, Taiwan attracted 528,019 Malaysians and Hong Kong 516,701. Japan had also stepped up its game and succeeded in getting 439,500 Malaysian visitors.
Another five countries round up the top 12 for Malaysian visitors. They are Vietnam (480,456), Australia (396,400), Saudi Arabia (321,300), India (301,961), and South Korea (279,558).
The success of Malaysia’s outbound tourism could also be attributed to local outbound tour operators, which received little or no help from the government. In fact, they are treated as a stepchild by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac).
While it is understandable for its promotion arm Tourism Malaysia to focus on inbound tourism, the authorities should not frown upon marketing efforts by outbound tour operators. Inbound cannot succeed on its own as tourism is a two-way trade, with airlines dependent on combined traffic at both departure and arrival destinations.
Without a large number of Malaysians travelling to countries which Tourism Malaysia is targeting visitors to Malaysia, airlines would not increase scheduled flights or may even suspend them when the passenger load factor is low.
There are several reasons why Malaysians prefer to travel overseas than holiday within the country. Thanks to budget airlines, travel within Asean and the Asia Pacific region has been made affordable, not just for tour groups but also for tourists travelling on their own.
In Malaysia, travelling in a small group or large family using a van or mini-bus requires the use of a tourist guide costing several hundred ringgit a day. Malaysians are forced by law to pay for a tourist guide they do not need or want, apart from intruding into their privacy.
The Department of Statistics reported there were 205.4 million domestic visitors making 276.1 million trips and spending over RM83 billion last year which was spent on shopping (36.3 percent), fuel (15.2 percent), food & beverage (13.8 percent), visited households (11.4 percent), accommodation (8.6 percent), transport (6.3 percent), other activities (5.5 percent) and entrance fees or tickets (three percent).
Very few bought tour packages or chose to travel in groups and yet Motac refused to budge despite repeated requests from tour operators to make tourist guides optional for Malaysian tourists to boost domestic tourism.
On the other hand, outbound tourism without such shackles or help by the government has thrived, thanks to the ingenuity of outbound tour operators and wanderlust of Malaysians.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.