Fighting for tourist dollars

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KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 27): The Edge weekly in its latest edition tells readers to expect to hear more about the Visit [email protected] tourism campaign in conjunction with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations marking its five-decade milestone.

In its cover story this week, The Edge’s Chua Sue-Ann wrote that Asean members are coming together to promote 50 destinations in the region as a way of enticing tourists from all over the world.

The magazine said Southeast Asia is undeniably home to amazing diversity, from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Thailand’s rich cultural heritage to Singapore’s world-class urban attractions and Malaysia’s famed rainforests and beaches.

Launched at the recent Asean Tourism Forum 2017 in Singapore, all 10 Southeast Asian nations pledged to continue working together to facilitate intra-Asean travel and shared knowledge, it said.

Yet, underlying the spirit of collaboration is intense competition between the countries for tourist arrivals and the all-important  travel dollars. Governments the world over know that tourism is a crucial economic sector. It contributes to the economy directly and indirectly and is an important source of foreign exchange.

The Edge said tourism also keeps hundreds of thousands of people employed and is a major boost for services, accommodation and construction, transport and air travel.

Take Malaysia, whose travel and tourism sector directly contributed RM51.1 billion or 4.4% to gross domestic product in 2015, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC). This is due to economic activities generated by hotels, travel agents, airlines, passenger transport, food and beverage as well as the leisure industry.

The sector’s contribution is projected to rise 7.9% to RM55.2 billion in 2016, WTTC says in its Malaysia report. It adds that domestic travel spend in Malaysia is expected to rise 4% to RM61.7 billion in 2016 whilst visitor exports by international tourists are projected to grow 12.3% to RM68.1 billion.

Malaysia has long promoted tourism. The wildly popular “Malaysia, Truly Asia” slogan has indeed stamped the country’s mark on the minds of many a foreign visitor. The current motto, “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia”, continues in that vein.

Nevertheless, the global business of travel and tourism has indeed changed significantly in the last decade. Affordable air travel has been a huge catalyst for swelling tourist arrivals. The world’s young and burgeoning middle class is ever-eager to travel and experience other cultures. The internet too has made it exceedingly easy to obtain information about the far-flung corners of the world.

The question is, does Malaysia remain attractive to international visitors when all its neighbours are ramping up efforts to court them? In short, can Malaysia still rely on its pitch of offering the best of Asia in one country?

For details on the country’s strategies to attract tourist dollars, read the cover story in the Edge weekly for the week of Jan 30- Feb 5 available at newsstands now.