by KK Tan email@example.com
A RECENT news report quoting figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) suggests that Malaysia is not getting the most value out of foreign tourists visiting the country. According to this report, international tourism receipts from Malaysia and its two neighbours, Thailand and Singapore, over the last two years are as follows :
Malaysia’s tourism revenue of US$18.3 billion (RM58.6 billion) in 2011 remained stagnant despite 5.6 million more tourists visiting Malaysia, compared with Thailand which, despite the floods, had revenue of US$26.3 billion (RM84.2 billion) – US$8 billion (RM25.6 billion) more than Malaysia. A total of 24.7 million tourists came to Malaysia last year compared with 19.1 million who visited Thailand.
Studies have shown that every tourist dollar spent here has a multiplier effect of 12 times.
Singapore, with only 13.2 million tourists last year, increased its receipts from US$14.1 billion (RM45.1 billion) in 2010 to US$18 billion (RM57.6 billion) in 2011, almost the same as Malaysia.
In 2011 (and as before), Malaysia has the highest number of tourist arrivals (24.7 million) for Asean countries, followed by Thailand (19.1 million), Singapore (13.2 million) and Indonesia (7.7 million).
The above scenario suggests that the country needs to have more high-value tourism products to get more out of foreign tourist spendings, promote local economy and generate greater foreign exchange earnings for the country.
East Asia, China in particular, and South Asia, India in particular, are clearly projected as the catchment markets for tourists in the very near future. Mainland Chinese alone are expected to register 180 million overseas visits a year from 2015, with most of them heading to Asean.
This is in addition to the increasing number of wealthy travellers from West Asia who Malaysia is already attracting.
The Tourism Ministry is responsible for the marketing and promotion of the country on a macro level and is also making efforts to promote certain sub-sectors such as health tourism to generate more arrivals and spendings. But the ministry has no responsibility for the management, maintenance and development of tourist attractions in the country.
Herein lies the problem. The ministry does not have the budget or the clout to develop high-value new tourism products, which if any, are often undertaken by the private sector. The government at the highest level and with the co-operation of all other ministries involved should set up a high-powered and action-driven taskforce (co-ordinated by the Tourism Ministry) to spearhead and support strategic tourist projects with the participation of the private sector and all other stakeholders including NGOs, tourist and travel agencies and local communities.
More thinking “beyond the wall” is needed to find innovative ways to better tap the spendings of tourists who are already coming to our shores. More high-value projects must be explored and supported. More needs to be done by all stakeholders involved in an important and crucial component of our economy.
The writer is the CEO of a strategic think tank and consultancy based in Kuala Lumpur.