Tourism and Ecotourism in Numbers

Over the past decade, the number of tourist arrivals to Malaysia has shown a gradual increase (Figure 1). Although the total number of visitors dropped by about 6% in 2015, it recovered gently by 4% in 2016. In 2017 Malaysia aims to attract 31.8 million to its shores, contributing RM118bil worth of tourist receipts1.

The top 10 tourist generating markets to Malaysia in 2016 were Singapore, Indonesia, China, Brunei, Thailand, India, South Korea, the Philippines, Japan and Australia (Table 1). Among these countries, tourist arrivals from India, the Philippines, Japan and Australia registered negative growth with a reduction of 11.6%, 24.8%, 14.4% and 22.4%, respectively, while the rest had positive growth in 2016 compared to 2015.

Based on the latest data released by the Department of Statistics, employment in the tourism sector in Malaysia increased by 1.9% in 2015 compared to 2014; the retail trade has the highest share to total employment in this sector (Figure 2).



Ecotourism in Malaysia is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors within the tourism industry, and Penang is one of the main ecotourism hotspots in the country. The state’s tourism industry is the second main source of income generation in the state, after manufacturing. Domestic and international visitor arrivals at Penang International Airport (PIA) have steadily increased by about 9% and 6.7% respectively per year over the past 10 years (Figure 3). It is hard to find accurate data on ecotourism, as there is no classification system.

In Malaysia, licensed tourist guides are categorised into city and nature guides based on the type of tourist places they guide at. A licensed city guide shows visitors around places of interest in the city, while a licensed nature guide leads tourists within the natural areas chosen by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Penang has about 1,221 registered tourist guides; 5.8% are nature guides and the rest are city guides. About 17.7% of tourist guides are Bumiputera and 82.3% are non-Bumiputera. The majority of tourist guides are male (Tables 2 and 3).

According to a survey conducted by Penang Global Tourism between March and December 2016, about 23.6% of visitors stated that visiting national parks, hiking and trekking are their high-priority activities in Penang (Figure 4).

One of the major ecotourism attractions in Penang are its forested areas. The total land listed under natural forests in Penang is estimated to be 78.1 km2 in 2012, covering 7.6% of the total land area. About 78% of total forested land areas in Penang are known as Permanent Reserved Forests (PRFs) (Figure 5). PRFs are managed based on sustainable forest management principles and practices. The remaining forested areas fall under wildlife reserves and state land forests, which are subject to future reservation or conversion. PRFs are classified into three major forest types: inland, peat swamp and mangrove. The inland forests are the major forest cover in Penang (Figure 6).

Based on a survey conducted by the Malaysian Nature Society with Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), 29 species of mammals, 38 species of reptiles and 16 species of amphibians were recorded at Penang National Park. Turtles have also been sighted periodically. A checklist of butterflies includes 53 species while that of birds contains 106 species; insect-eater species include flycatchers, warblers and babblers. Kingfisher species such as the oriental dwarf kingfisher or the large stork-billed kingfisher can also be spotted. In muddy areas, migratory birds such as the black baza, Japanese sparrowhawk and the crested honey buzzard are sighted.

The park is also rich in timber as well as medicinal and ornamental plants. The flora of this area is one which is characteristic of a coastal dipterocarp forest, with some sections of hill dipterocarp forest. Coastal vegetation in the park consists of mangrove forests, the beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae), Leguminosae (Canavalia microcarpa), and some grasses of the Graminae type such as Ischaemum muticum, Spinifex littoreus and Zoysia matrella.2


2 Hong, C. W., & Chan, N. W. (2010). The potentials, threats and challenges in sustainable development of Penang National Park. Malaysian Journal of Environmental Management, 11(2), 95-109.

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