Malaysia’s creative tourism numbers

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SignboardThe Malaysian government has recently launched the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign in a bid to lure higher numbers of tourists from abroad.

Technically, with 25 million foreign visitors welcomed in 2012 who brought in some $20 billion in revenue (according to Tourism Malaysia’s official statistics), Malaysia was the top tourism destination in ASEAN. This year, the country expects 27 million visitors and 29 million in 2014.

It will be a neck-on-neck race with Thailand, which has – despite all political turmoil – expectations to receive 26 million visitors in 2013 and up to 30 million in 2014.

Thailand also seems to better off in terms of tourism receipts: Its 22 million visitors in 2012 brought in some $27 billion in revenue – which indicates a significant higher per-capita spending of some $1,230 in Thailand against $800 in Malaysia despite Thailand is a cheaper country for tourists than Malaysia.

What is behind all these numbers? Why has Malaysia so many tourists but less revenue, and how are they being counted?

The answer to the problem is simply that Malaysia is counting too many Singapore and Brunei ‘tourists’.

For 2012, Tourism Malaysia gave the number of Singapore tourists to Malaysia at 13 million, or more than 50 per cent of the total, far ahead of Indonesian tourists (2 million), Chinese (1.5 million and Thai (1.2 million). Brunei tourists to Malaysia were given at 1.2 million.

But Singapore just has a population of 5.3 million, and Brunei just 412,000, so obviously tourists from these destinations are counted multiple times.

This includes families from Singapore who just drive across the border to fill up with cheap gasoline and Bruneians on a Saturday night booze run to Sarawak. A Singapore family of four going for a cheap tank filling to Malaysia every weekend already make about 208 tourists a year, for example.

Tourism Malaysia defends itself saying that this counting method is ‘in line’ with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation guidelines on tourists.

If so, this needs an urgent overhaul. Like counting internet page visits, it has to be determined whether a person is a unique visitor over a given time period and not just a multiple short-time visitor.

Like in Internet advertising, tourism figures are the basis for a number of investment decisions, but counting 250 per cent of Singapore’s population as tourists to Malaysia in a year is just nonsense.

Even more so as Singapore is not adding Malaysian border runners and labour commuters to its tourism figures.

That said, the plausibility of Malaysia’s target in the Tourism Transformation Plan to reach 30 million tourists by 2020 and $53 billion in revenue has to be brought into question – it would mean that per-capita tourism spending needs to more than double from the current $800 to some $1,760 – how can this ever work out?

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s bi-weekly column series in Sarawak’s leading newspaper Borneo Post and is published every second Sunday

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Malaysian government has recently launched the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign in a bid to lure higher numbers of tourists from abroad.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

SignboardThe Malaysian government has recently launched the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign in a bid to lure higher numbers of tourists from abroad.

Technically, with 25 million foreign visitors welcomed in 2012 who brought in some $20 billion in revenue (according to Tourism Malaysia’s official statistics), Malaysia was the top tourism destination in ASEAN. This year, the country expects 27 million visitors and 29 million in 2014.

It will be a neck-on-neck race with Thailand, which has – despite all political turmoil – expectations to receive 26 million visitors in 2013 and up to 30 million in 2014.

Thailand also seems to better off in terms of tourism receipts: Its 22 million visitors in 2012 brought in some $27 billion in revenue – which indicates a significant higher per-capita spending of some $1,230 in Thailand against $800 in Malaysia despite Thailand is a cheaper country for tourists than Malaysia.

What is behind all these numbers? Why has Malaysia so many tourists but less revenue, and how are they being counted?

The answer to the problem is simply that Malaysia is counting too many Singapore and Brunei ‘tourists’.

For 2012, Tourism Malaysia gave the number of Singapore tourists to Malaysia at 13 million, or more than 50 per cent of the total, far ahead of Indonesian tourists (2 million), Chinese (1.5 million and Thai (1.2 million). Brunei tourists to Malaysia were given at 1.2 million.

But Singapore just has a population of 5.3 million, and Brunei just 412,000, so obviously tourists from these destinations are counted multiple times.

This includes families from Singapore who just drive across the border to fill up with cheap gasoline and Bruneians on a Saturday night booze run to Sarawak. A Singapore family of four going for a cheap tank filling to Malaysia every weekend already make about 208 tourists a year, for example.

Tourism Malaysia defends itself saying that this counting method is ‘in line’ with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation guidelines on tourists.

If so, this needs an urgent overhaul. Like counting internet page visits, it has to be determined whether a person is a unique visitor over a given time period and not just a multiple short-time visitor.

Like in Internet advertising, tourism figures are the basis for a number of investment decisions, but counting 250 per cent of Singapore’s population as tourists to Malaysia in a year is just nonsense.

Even more so as Singapore is not adding Malaysian border runners and labour commuters to its tourism figures.

That said, the plausibility of Malaysia’s target in the Tourism Transformation Plan to reach 30 million tourists by 2020 and $53 billion in revenue has to be brought into question – it would mean that per-capita tourism spending needs to more than double from the current $800 to some $1,760 – how can this ever work out?

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s bi-weekly column series in Sarawak’s leading newspaper Borneo Post and is published every second Sunday

Borneo Post logo

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