LETTER | 2020 was bad for tourism, 2021 could be worse

YS Chan


LETTER | Tourism Malaysia had released the figures for foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia for the first nine months of last year and it was no surprise that the total number decreased by 78.6% from 20,109,203 in 2019 to 4,299,419 to 2020.

The monthly arrivals for last year were 2,164,459 (Jan), 1,397,912 (Feb), 671,084 (March), 7,546 (April), 5,411 (May), 6,585 (June), 18,660 (July), 11,631 (Aug) and 16,131 (Sept). These numbers were very much less compared to the monthly average of 2,175,065 recorded in 2019.

Initially, there was only a 1.4% drop of arrivals in January last year but fell by 35.5% in February due to the spread of the novel coronavirus and worsened to 71.3% in March. By then, the movement control order (MCO) was introduced on March 18.

Although the MCO was replaced by the conditional MCO in May and further relaxed with the recovery MCO from June, monthly visitor arrivals had dropped to only four figures monthly for April, May and June.

The recovery MCO boosted arrival numbers to 46,422 in the third quarter from 19,542 in the second quarter. But with the reintroduction of the conditional MCO in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Sabah from Nov 9, the number for the last quarter is likely to drop to around 33,312.

If so, total arrivals for last year will be 4,332,731, a decline of 83.4%, which will be remarkably close to the 83.5% that I had predicted three months ago in my article 'Foreign tourist arrival figures are grim'.

With Covid-19 infections spiralling instead of abating, foreign tourist arrivals for the first half of this year will be about the same as the six months from April to September last year, which was 65,964. Sadly, the total for this year will be much lesser than last year.

The only way for tourism industry players to survive is to secure business from domestic tourists and if this market is not enough to cover costs, it would be better to cease operations and restart at the right time. It would be difficult for businesses such as hotel operators but relatively easy for intermediaries such as travel agents.

It should be noted that Covid-19 vaccines are no cures for the global recession and do not undo the damage already caused by the pandemic. Also, there are significant logistical and political hurdles to clear before mass vaccination is possible and tourists can travel freely.

Hopefully, the pandemic and economy will bottom-up from the middle of this year and 2022 will be better than in 2020 and continue its recovery phase in 2023 until we reach full recovery in 2024. 

In any case, it is prudent to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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