LETTER | Last year, 25,832,354 foreigners visited Malaysia, a minuscule drop of 0.4 percent, while Singapore registered 18,506,619 tourists, a healthy increase of 6.21 percent.
But it is more interesting to know why Malaysia receives a far greater number of visitors than Singapore.
According to MasterCard’s 2018 Global Destination Cities Index, Kuala Lumpur was ranked 7th-most visited city in the world with 12.58 million visitors, not far behind Singapore with 13.91 million.
And the figure was just for our capital city. We have many other destinations throughout our country, from duty-free Langkawi island in Kedah to the highest peak in Southeast Asia in Sabah. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Malaysia has more visitors than Singapore.
But if the number of Singaporean visitors to Malaysia is not counted and similarly for Malaysian visitors to Singapore, tourists visiting Malaysia would drop to only 15,216,368 and Singapore 17,252,627.
It will be more shocking if figures for eight other Asean nations are similarly excluded. The number to Malaysia will be down to 7,717,908 and Singapore far ahead with 11,985,897.
The main reason why 7,498,460 tourists from other Asean countries visited Malaysia compared to 5,266,730 to Singapore is because of land border crossings from Thailand and Brunei.
For example, Brunei with a population of about 437,000 contributed 1,382,011 visitors to Malaysia, similar to Singapore’s population of 5,842,000 with 13,942,967 visitors to Malaysia in 2014. In contrast, Singapore registered only 74,960 visitors from Brunei last year.
Both Malaysia and Singapore received about the same number of visitors from Indonesia, Cambodian and Laos. But the total number of visitors from Vietnam, Philippines and Myanmar to Singapore, at 1,515,338, was much higher than 810,153 to Malaysia.
In other words, even with our far greater variety of tourism products plus lower costs of goods and services, including much cheaper hotel rooms, we have less tourists from three Asean countries and rest of the world. Have we identified what went wrong?
If the authorities already knew, then it should be shared with tourism industry players and both public and private sectors mount a concerted effort to make it right. It should start with analysing statistics more intelligently and make better use of data instead of guesswork.
For example, if Singaporean visitors are excluded from both 2017 and 2018 statistics, visitor arrivals to Malaysia have actually increased by 12.6 percent. That was a great achievement and Tourism Malaysia deserves a pat on the back.
The drop of Singaporean visitors was mainly due to our general election last May. And if things were just as heated in the next election, their numbers will drop again and there is no way to entice them as visitors place perceived safety and security above everything else.
When it comes to data, the best place to gather would be at the airport departure gates when tourists normally wait an hour before boarding and would be happy to share the reasons why they chose to visit Malaysia, how they made their travel arrangements, what were their joys and disappointments during their stay, and what will make them come back.
If this information has already been gathered, they should be shared with tourism industry players on a monthly or at the very least quarterly basis. As it is, most tourism industry players are in the dark and operating in silos.
In today’s world where information is king and data is the new currency, the majority of local tourism industry players are not keeping abreast with the times. Many are lagging their Vietnamese counterparts who are keener to learn and embrace technology.
A clear indicator is the lack of training programmes for travel and tour operators, with few companies and personnel eager to improve themselves by acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to perform better. This is because the first prerequisite is missing – attitude.
We are fond of sloganeering because it makes everyone feels good, but they are merely ‘syok sendiri” exercise without producing the desired results. We ought to remember that branding only works when fundamentals are strong.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.