Tourism is a very big economic benefit to the Sherpa people, and also, they have very strong ties to their own social attitudes and their own religion, so fortunately, they’re not too influenced by many of our Western attitudes.

Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and first to reach the peak of Mount Everest, along with fellow climber Tenzing Norgay

The Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, branded as Tourism Malaysia, releases regular reports on the performance of local tourism industry. For example, it had earlier issued the “Malaysia Tourism Performance” for the first nine months of last year.

The report must be read and understood so that tourism sector players make good use of the data to increase their businesses and growth of the industry. It is important to note that such surveys have been honed over the years and not carried out on an ad hoc basis.

Those who find some of the figures incredulous should not dismiss but ponder over them. For example, 19.2 percent of the 20,109,203 foreigners who entered Malaysia from January to September in 2019 cited visiting friends and relatives was the main purpose of their trip.

Although foreigners come to Malaysia for many reasons, those surveyed were asked to identify the main purpose. The findings were holidays (59.7 percent), visiting friends and relatives (19.2 percent), shopping (13.2 percent), and the rest combined (7.9 percent) that includes health treatment, business, meeting, incentive, convention, exhibition, honeymoon, education and others.

It would be difficult for tour operators to comprehend that 3,860,967 entries by foreigners were mainly to meet up with friends and relatives in Malaysia. This is because the tourists they serve are foreigners who have made prior bookings for services before their arrival.

Most of these tourists arrived by air, initially at one of our international airports and eventually upon their departure. But flights constituted only 37.1 percent share in mode of transport as all tourists require land transport upon their arrival to the hotel and then for moving about.

As such, it is no surprise that road transport took 56.7percent share, also because large numbers of arrivals are visitors from neighbouring countries and could just drive into Malaysia or use public transport such as tour buses, vans and taxis.

Singapore contributed the largest number with 7,868,755 or 39.1 percent of all tourist arrivals for the first nine months of last year, Thailand 1,442,224 or 7.2 percent and Brunei 929,789 or 4.6%. These three countries accounted for 51 percent of all arrivals into Malaysia, with the majority by road.

Foreign tourists who come to visit friends and relatives are unlikely to make use of the service of local tour operators. Many of them are repeat visitors and are quite familiar with the destinations and confident of travelling on their own.

One example is my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter who flew from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur on January 7 and will bereturning to Australia on January 30 after the Chinese New Year celebrations. In between, they will visit Melaka and Singapore.

As they are travelling with Australian passports, they are contributing to six more Australian arrivals to Malaysia in January 2020. They are also counted as tourists in Melaka for staying there for several nights and they will be driving a private car.

They may not contribute to hotel occupancy rate by staying at private accommodation booked online, but Tourism Malaysia promotes and welcomes all visitors, as they add to the number of tourist arrivals and more importantly tourism receipts.

However, local authorities should ensure unlicensed accommodation popular with tourists are safe, and visitors behave and not be a nuisance in the neighbourhood. Those who operate such business ought to be more transparent.

It is a sham for online booking platforms to describe private accommodation as homestays when it is not. A house is not a home and renting one or more room in an empty apartment or house cannot be touted as homestay.

Offering accommodation in an apartment or house where the owner or tenant is staying is homestay and is usually a more enriching experience than staying in a hotel. This should be promoted and encouraged for the benefit of both guest and host.

But when entrepreneurs rent entire apartment or house and sub-let to visitors for short stay, it is operating a business using unlicensed accommodation. There are bound to be cases where safety and security of guests and residents are compromised.

Perhaps such matters are being addressed by the authorities as the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture will soon be launching the National Tourism Policy to boost the country’s tourism sector and in line with the goals of the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030.

Given some incentives, many Malaysians and foreigners living in Malaysia can easily persuade a large number of friends and relatives residing overseas to visit Malaysia. These are low-hanging fruits, more so during VM2020.

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