MALAYSIA’S TOP VISITING country is Singapore, followed by Indonesia, China and Thailand. In 2019 Malaysia received more than 10 million tourists from the city state, making up 38.9% of total visitors. Its popularity among Singaporeans is due to close proximity, tight cultural and linguistic links, and a favourable exchange rate, although tourist arrivals from the country have dropped.
However, this is more than compensated by growth in tourist numbers from other countries, reflecting a growing interest in Malaysia as a holiday destination. The total number of visitors in 2019 was 26.1 million, a growth of 1% from 2018.
Tourists from Southeast Asia tend to stay for shorter periods of time. The close proximity between Malaysia and their home countries suggests that compared to tourists from farther regions, they are more likely to have visited or plan to visit again. Hence, the shorter trips.
Singaporeans, for example, stay for only 2.6 nights on average, making their lengths of stay the shortest among all tourists (Figure 3). British tourists, on the other hand, stay for 9.6 nights on average.
Going by country, tourist receipts from Singapore are the highest, at RM20,547.3mil for 2019 alone (Figure 4). This is followed by Chinese nationals whose spending power has risen in the past two decades, and Indonesians, for whom Malaysia is the ideal destination for medical tourism.
Except ASEAN, tourists from all regions have been spending more during their travels in Malaysia. On average, West Asian tourists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Oman have the highest propensity to spend. A typical tourist from United Arab Emirates, for example, spends RM1,042 per day while travelling. Although British tourists who have comparable income levels spend the same amount of time in Malaysia (9.6 nights), their expenditures are 40% lower. This indicates that high expenditures by West Asian tourists are most likely influenced by consumption and travel patterns.
Tourists from ASEAN countries are the lowest spenders, with each tourist spending only RM2,445.2 during each trip. However, as seen in the previous figure, this is offset by the large number of tourist arrivals from that bloc.
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely dented Malaysia’s track record of consistent growth in the tourism sector. All main indicators of tourism have fallen except for average per diem expenditure, an estimate of how much a tourist spends each day. The numbers show that between January to March 2020, there were fewer tourists compared to the same season last year, and those who did visit shortened their stays significantly.
At the same time, however, tourists were also spending more each day. Average per diem expenditure rose by 35.5% (Figure 6). This suggests that tourists were either spending on more expensive items and/or increasing the number of purchases. It is possible that virus fears may have caused visitors to avoid less hygienic or populated spaces such as markets, and opt to shop or dine at areas where they can observe social distancing such as boutiques and restaurants.
While the large spike in daily expenditure was insufficient to counter the drop in tourist receipts, it cushioned the drop in spending per person.