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Opinion

Friday, 12 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Look at India for tourists

THE Tourism Promotion Board has just released figures for arrivals of foreign tourists to Malaysia up to October last year. There was a 2.5% decline in visitor arrivals for the first 10 months of last year over the corresponding period in 2016.

If the performance of the first 10 months was replicated over the remaining two months, then total visitor arrivals for last year would be 25,805,916, which would be six million short of the targeted 31.8 million. If so, it would be five consecutive years when actual visitor arrivals have fallen short of target.

The targets from 2013 to 2017 were 26.8 million, 28 million, 29.4 million, 30.5 million and 31.8 million, but arrivals were 25,038,778, 27,431,338, 25,359,708, 26,467,770 and an estimated 25,805,916 for last year.

When combined, the number of visitors targeted for the five years would total 146.5 million while arrivals would be 130,103,440. The target set for this year is 33.1 million but actual arrivals would likely be another six million short. Achieving 27.1 million visitors would be quite a feat, as it means a 5% growth after a 2.5% decline last year.

Dishing out the same promotional campaigns with limited budget coupled with unfriendly policies and practices have resulted in fewer visitors after 2014, while other countries in the region pulled out all stops to welcome tourists.

A good example is visitors from India. In 2014, we received 770,108 tourists from India and we were counting on this Asian giant, together with China, to supply the bulk of visitors and be less reliant on our Asean neighbours, which, when combined, contributed 75% of all arrivals.

But visitors from India have been falling each year, from 722,141 in 2015 to 638,578 in 2016, and an estimated 539,548 for last year.

Both India and China are huge countries with their population spread over vast territories. It was a big hassle to apply for Malay­sian visas by submitting passports to Malaysian consulates. Fortunately, Malaysia introduced electronic visas, starting in China and followed by India.

Naturally, there were teething problems but these were overcome – earlier in China than India – but by the time they were fixed, the damage had been done. Instead of putting up with all the inconveniences of obtaining Malaysian visas, tourists opted for other countries.

With new-found destinations welcoming them with open arms, it would be tough to lure them back to our country.

And this is not lost on Indian airlines as none currently fly to Malaysia. Only Malaysia-based airlines are operating between India and Malaysia. Without additional flights that could be provided by Indian airlines, promotions would come to naught if there isn’t enough seat capacity.

The top five countries with largest number of visitors to Malaysia are Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand and Brunei. Combined, they contribute over 80% of all arrivals. India is placed a distant sixth and accounts for only 2%, but has the greatest potential for growth.Right now, the number of visitors from India is fewer by a quarter compared to tourists from China.

India’s population is currently slightly lower than China’s but would soon overtake it as the world’s most populous country. Due to its close proximity to Malaysia, we should take more concrete measures to draw visitors from the entire Indian sub-continent. But it requires much harder work than merely setting higher targets for visitor arrivals every year.

CY MING

Ampang