I hope that the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, alongside all marketing and promotional activities we have lined up, will firmly put Malaysia on the map of travellers everywhere and encourage them to choose Malaysia as their holiday destination.

– Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi, former Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister

The Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) was initiated in 2011 with the aim of attracting 36 million foreign tourist arrivals and earning RM168 billion tourism receipts annually by 2020.

There were good reasons for such optimism. Foreign tourist arrivals shot up from 10.58 million in 2003 to 15.70 million the following year and continued to increase steadily to 16.43 million, 17.55 million, 20.97 million, 22.05 million, 23.65 million and 24.58 million from 2005 to 2010 respectively.

It continued to surge ahead to 24.71 million, 25.03 million, 25.72 million and 27.44 million from 2011 to 2014 but dropped to 25.72 million in 2015, rising once more to 26.76 million in 2016, dropping again to 25.95 million in 2017, and lowering to 25.83 million in 2018.

Although latest figures have yet to be released by Tourism Malaysia, the number of foreign tourist arrivals for last year is projected to be around 26.8 million. With the Covid-19 outbreak impacting travel globally, we should be contented to receive the same number this year.

Perhaps something could be learned by comparing annual targets with actual arrivals (in brackets) over the past six years. From 2013 to 2018, the targets were 26.8 million (25.72 million), 28.0 million (27.44 million), 29.4 million (25.72 million), 30.5 million (26.76 million), 31.8 million (25.95 million) and 33.1 million (25.83 million) respectively.

The target for 2019 was revised down to 28.1 million and 30 million for Visit Malaysia Year 2020 but remain elusive. Many people have jumped on the tourism bandwagon with scant knowledge about tourism, such as profile of foreign tourists to our country, but lured by the huge foreign tourist expenditures, which increased from RM21.3 billion in 2003 to about RM88.2 billion last year.

Inbound tourism is only one of the twin pillars of our local tourism industry. The other is domestic tourism that includes Malaysians and foreigners residing here travelling within the country and total expenditure exceeded RM100 billion in 2019.

Last year, Malaysians made about 13.2 million trips overseas and total outbound tourism expenditure amounted to around RM50 billion, spent mostly on transportation, shopping, accommodation, food and beverage, and payment to tour organisers and travel agencies for services arranged by them.

The entire tourism industry, combining domestic, inbound and outbound, is a gigantic sprawling business comprising many sectors and overlaps numerous industries. It was racing towards the quarter trillion ringgit mark this year but has being derailed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Even before this, there had been more failures than success for those venturing into this business, as many had blinkers on. How many of those who tried tapping into foreign tourist expenditure know the customer profile of their target group on niche market?

For example, 63.2% of foreign tourists are between 35 to 54 years-old; 56.3% travel with a spouse; 55.3% are professionals or in management/sales or office staff; 69.9% are repeat visitors; a whopping 93.8% are independent travellers with the remaining 6.2% on package tours.

The majority (59.5%) enter the country by land (road or rail) and 34.7% via international airports. Although most have more than one reason, the main purpose of their visits was for holiday (55.3%), visit friends and relatives (19.8%), and shopping (13.4%).

The top three foreign tourist expenditures are in shopping (33.4%), accommodation (25.7%), and food and beverage (13.4%). Combined, they rake in 72.5% of the tourism cake with the remainder shared by land and air transportation, sightseeing tours, entertainment, medical services and others.

For shopping, 98.8% of foreign tourists purchase handicrafts/souvenirs, 93.8% buy apparels/ clothing, 82.8% acquire foodstuff, 53.1% splurge on cosmetics/personal care, 44.4% indulge in shoes; 39.7% pick up household goods; and 28.3% on chocolates. Retailers selling these items at strategic spots rake in the tourist dollar.

Regardless of whether tourists use a travel agency or Do-It-Yourself (DIY) arrangement, all tourists stay overnight, mostly at paid accommodation in licensed hotels or private residences. The mushrooming of budget hotels earlier has been overtaken by the proliferation of private residences.

Those venturing into food and beverage could offer traditional foods that appeal to those who have acquired the taste from young, and such operations could range from fancy restaurants to roadside stalls. Others may just take up a franchise from a fast food, coffee or milk tea chain.

Location, location, location is the mantra echoed by property agents and none truer than operating food and beverage outlets. For example, offering the same quality of food and service could succeed in one location but fail in another. This can happen in the same mall or on the same street.

Many factors determine whether a tourism business is in the pipeline or remain a pipe dream.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.