The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist see what he has come to see.

– G. K. Chesterton, English writer, philosopher, and literary and art critic

Last Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said domestic tourism would certainly be beefed up under the economic stimulus package to be unveiled by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Feb 27.

But what exactly is domestic tourism? It has become a cliché bandied about by many people but may only be looking from a narrow perspective. This could explain why the development of our domestic tourism is far from its full potential.

It is essential to know the differences between local tourism industry, domestic tourism, domestic travel, visitors, excursionists and tourists, otherwise generalisation and assumptions could lead to misunderstanding or off the mark.

Domestic tourism will boom when the main stakeholders act in concert and they include customers and service providers, government authorities and non-governmental organisations, mainstream and social medias, bloggers and vloggers, tourism organisations and academic institutions, tour and transport operators; apart from shops, attractions, hotels, restaurants and others.

One definition of domestic tourism is by the Department of Statistics, which releases an annual report on June 30 every year. According to its Domestic Tourism Survey for 2018, domestic tourism expenditure totalled RM92,561 million, a 11.4 percent growth over the previous year.

The RM92.6 billion was on shopping (RM34.8b), automotive fuel (RM13.6b), food & beverage (RM12.8b), visited households (RM9.8b), accommodation (RM7.9b), transportation (RM5.7b), other activities (RM4.9b), and before the trip, package, entrance fee and miscellaneous (RM3.1b).

While shopping accounted for 32.9 percent in all foreign tourist expenditure, this component was 37.6 percent for domestic visitors’ expenditure. However, fuel constituted only 0.3 percent of total expenditure by foreign tourists, it is a hefty 14.7 percent for domestic visitors.

The differences here must be understood before jumping on the tourism bandwagon blinded by billions of expenditures, with domestic tourism breaching the RM100 billion marks last year and another RM100 billion targeted from inbound in Visit Malaysia 2020.

Fuel spent by foreign tourists are mostly by those on motoring holidays, as they prefer to rent and drive a car to explore the country at their own pace. They deserve a red-carpet welcome for spreading the tourist dollar wherever they go and benefitting many.

Fuels spent by domestic visitors are by excursionists on day trip and those who spent one or more nights away from home are categorised as tourists. This applies to foreigners as well as only Singaporeans staying overnight in Malaysia are included in tourist arrival figures.

As for domestic visitors, their main purposes were visiting relatives and friends (40.6%), shopping (34.7%), holiday, leisure or relaxation (10.4%), entertainment, attending special event or sport (5.2%), medical treatment or wellness (4.6%) and others (4.5%). Survey respondents were asked to identify one main purpose although many have more than one reason to travel.

The states that received the largest number of domestic visitors are Selangor (30.2m), Sabah (20.4m), Sarawak (19.4m), Kuala Lumpur (19.2m) and Pahang (18.1m). To the uninitiated, these figures must be wrong as Kuala Lumpur should be number one and not that many people from Peninsular Malaysia travel to Sabah or Sarawak.

Domestic tourism, although for travel within the country, does not mean it must be interstate. It can also be within the states. For Sabah and Sarawak, they are so large that these states are divided into divisions, and interdivisional travel can be as distant as interstate travel in Peninsular Malaysia.

Hence, 98.3 percent of domestic visitors used land transport, and the rest by air, sea ferry or river boat. Perhaps more importantly is where domestic tourists stayed overnight. A high 68.2 percent stayed in unpaid accommodation provided by relatives and friends, 20.4 percent in hotels, 4.4 percent in apartments, 3.0 percent in homestay/vacation homes, 2.3 percent in chalets and 1.7 percent in rest houses.

In 2018, 221.3 million domestic visitors undertook 302.4 million trips within the country, and about one third are tourists staying overnight away from home. To promote domestic travel, the challenge is to get more Malaysians to travel and make more trips within the country staying in paid accommodation.

The main reasons could be for holiday, hobby, sport, entertainment, wellness, medical, meeting, incentive tour, conference, exhibition or shopping at malls or at source such as farms and factories, apart from visiting relatives and friends.

And now is the best tour to promote domestic travel as airlines are offering affordable fares to fill up seats, hotels with heavily discounted rates to fill up rooms, and attractions offering almost giveaway tickets to draw crowds.

The local tourism industry, which encompasses service providers that cater to both inbound and domestic markets plus outbound tour operators that organise tours to overseas, are all in the same boat, impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.

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