Despite a weak ringgit that was perceived to boost inbound tourism, foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia totalled 25.9 million in 2017 with a yield of RM82.2 billion (US$21 billion), a far cry from the targeted 31 million tourists and RM114 billion yield.
Last year’s arrival figures indicated a three per cent decline over 2016, although yield posted a marginal 0.1 per cent increase in 2017 to RM82.2 billion.
It was a mixed bag of performance for ASEAN, a key market source accounting for 75 per cent of total arrivals to Malaysia.
Regional markets that saw a decline in 2017 include Cambodia (-32.1 per cent), Myanmar (-14 per cent), the Philippines (-11.2 per cent), Indonesia (-8.3 per cent) and Singapore (-6.3 per cent).
On the other hand, double-digit growth was registered for other ASEAN markets such as Brunei (+19.4 per cent), Vietnam (+14.8 per cent), Laos (+27 per cent) and Thailand (+3.1 per cent).
Arrivals from India, another major market for Malaysia, tumbled 13.4 per cent from 2016 to 552,739 in 2017.
Keen to arrest the decline for India, whose arrivals have been on a downward slide since 2015, Tourism Malaysia has embarked on a six-month joint marketing and promotion campaign with Akqua Sun Group, a destination marketing company based in India.
The campaign, which runs from January to June, utilises a comprehensive promotion mix, implemented across print and online advertising, trade networking roadshows to meet top travel agents, participation in consumer and trade tourism fairs, workshops and product briefings on Malaysia, familiarisation trips and joint promotions.
Tourism Malaysia’s director-general, Mirza Mohammad Taiyab revealed there are plans to set up a Tourism Malaysia office in Kolkata, adding to offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. With AirAsia flying daily between Kolkata and Kuala Lumpur, the regional office will help to boost tourist arrivals from West Bengal and neighbouring states.
Mirza suggested that congestion at the entry points into Malaysia, especially during peak periods, as a possible reason driving tourists to consider other destinations.
To address the bottlenecks, the government has stepped up efforts to make entry clearances by land and sea faster and more convenient, especially during peak travel periods for the respective markets, said Mirza.
In January, the Immigration Department issued a statement that steps have been taken to ease congestion at the main gateway, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, by opening support counters for passenger inspection during peak periods.
The state government of Johor is also looking at ways to ease traffic congestion along the Causeway and the Second Link. Options being considered include increasing the number of toll booths at the Second Link, better traffic management at both checkpoints, which includes separating bigger and larger trailers from smaller lorries for faster clearance and increasing the number of security personnel during peak hours.