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 Tourism Malaysia  

Lim Rue Yau & Chow Choon Yee; August 2007

Malaysia is an ideal tourism destination in so many different respects as it offers a wide range of diverse attractions and at relatively affordable prices. The country has endless stretches of white sandy beaches, 19 national parks, jungle, hill resort and Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, which become the ecotourist’s paradise. In addition, Malaysia consists of rich diversity of attractions; it is a harmonious blend of centuries-old cultures, arts and traditions, and of multi-racial and multi-ethnic communities. These characteristics allowed Malaysia successfully attract not only local tourists but also many foreign tourists. Thus, tourism industry has developed into a major sector of the economy in Malaysia and especially with this being Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) and the nation’s 50th birthday. According to Putting Malaysia on the world map (2007), travel and tourism is the country’s second largest income spinner after manufacturing.

Tourism in Malaysia dates back to 1959 when the first Tourism Department was set up. Unfortunately, Bureau of Statistics only limited its findings to external trade and estate agriculture that resulting in there were no hard records to justify the significant role played by tourism at that time. Besides, tourism hardly made any profound impact on the economy then – until the department was upgraded to the Tourism Development Corporation in 1972. It then charted a new era in the history of Malaysian tourism. That was the same year Malaysia Airlines was formed and together, they worked tirelessly on putting Malaysia on the world tourism map. In the 80s, increased financial affluence, where more people could afford cars, improved infrastructure and better public transportation services, saw the domestic was the primary method of transportation for all tourists traveling to and from Malaysia although tourism market booming. Land-based transportation including buses, coaches, and rail locals preferred to drive to their domestic destinations.

However, in 1991 arrivals knock down dramatically as a result of the Gulf War and over the next five years, while international tourism receipts almost doubled, the arrivals count showed hardly any improvement. The fall in international arrivals continued from 1996 to 1998, influenced by the Asian financial and economic crisis and less than cordial relations at that time between Malaysia and Singapore. In addition, outbreaks of different diseases in the Penang and East Malaysia caused health conscious and potential tourists were also deterred by the smoke haze that affected the region, caused by the illegal burning of the forest fires in Indonesia. As a result, the country recorded only 5.6 million arrivals and RM8.6 billion international tourism receipts in 1998.

The National Economic Recovery Plan drawn up in 1998 identified tourism as a key sector for the country’s future economic growth, therefore, worthy of increased government attention. Besides, a three-pronged strategy was also drawn up by the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board to boost arrivals and earnings from tourism. The strategy would so far seem to have been successful. In 1999 and 2000, Malaysia enjoyed two years of strong growth in international tourism receipts. Efforts to promote the growth of domestic tourism have been reinforced by the organization of special events, such as the Malaysia Fest and Shopping Carnivals, and Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysia Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), have developed domestic holiday packages.

According to Malaysia Tourism Board (MTB), Malaysia attracted 10.2 million international tourist arrivals in 2000 staying an average of 5.8 nights in the country, a slightly increase (29 per cent) over the previous year. The World Tourism Organization ranks Malaysia as the third most popular destination in the Asia Pacific region in term of international tourist arrivals, yet it ranks only tenth in terms of receipts (1999). This is due to the fact that average length of stay in the country is only 5.8 nights, and majority of the tourists are from relatively low-yield, neighboring markets. On the other hand, international tourism receipts totaled RM17.3 billion in 2000, while total visitor exports (including fare receipts) reached RM24 billion. With VMY2007 timed to coincide with 50 years of independence, tourist numbers were initially off to a slow start. But in February, the arrivals were up by 9.7% compared with that of last year’s (Putting Malaysia on the world map, 2007).

Nevertheless, the baseline forecasts for Malaysia’ travel and tourism (T&T) industry are generally positive. For Malaysia, T&T economic activity is expected to grow by 6.4 per cent between 2001 and 2010. Besides, the T&T Industry’s contribution is expected to rise to RM38, 713 million by 2010. In term of T&T Economy employment is estimated at 822,900 jobs or 8.8 per cent of total employment in 2001. By 2010, this should grow to 1.0 million jobs, 9.6 pr cent of total employment. In addition, Malaysia Tourism Board stated that Malaysia was voted the world’s best destination for 2006 in a survey conducted by US-based business travel publication, Global Traveler. The survey, carried out between February and August last year collected the opinions of 13,653 of the magazine’s readers who are regarded as an elite group of international travelers. The survey respondents answered a questionnaire covering 42 travel categories. The stability of a country remains a major consideration for tourists, especially those from Europe and North America. Being the catalyst for growth, the tourism industry has opened up new avenues and provided many with hope, career and a future.

The only challenge for T&T industry seems to be lack of developing a clear product appeal (image) like Thailand and Singapore has. Thus, Malaysia still lags behind other leading competitive destinations in the region. As a conclusion, since T&T reaches its enormous potential as a mechanism for future economic and social development across the whole country, measures already undertaken by the government of T&T in order to achieving a healthy balance between business imperatives, the protection of cultural heritage and environment, and the well-being of local communities.

Main | Malaysian Economy | Asian Crisis | Teaching Subjects  

Har Wai Mun @ 2007