Tourist Arrival Trends

By Yeong Pey Jung

November 2022 STATISTICS
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SEVERE DISRUPTIONS FROM the Covid-19 pandemic have caused Malaysia and Penang’s robust tourism industry to suffer. Deemed a major contributor towards the economy, tourism was affected greatly in terms of arrivals and revenue. Figure 1 clearly depicts the impact of the pandemic on Malaysia’s international tourist arrivals. After enjoying a slight growth of 2.3% and 1% in tourist arrivals and tourist receipts respectively in 2019, the year 2020 experienced enormous negative growth rates of -85.2% and -83.4%. It continued to worsen in 2021 (-97% change in tourist arrivals and -98.1% change in tourist receipts) due to the continued lockdown of international borders.

Year after year, visitors from Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam were consistently among Malaysia’s top five international visitors (Table 1). The trend persisted across tourist arrivals from these countries and others, but saw massive decreases in tourist arrivals in 2020 and 2021 after enjoying respectable growth rates in the two previous years. 2020 saw a reduction of between -78.8% to -88.8% in arrivals, further worsening in 2021, with already scant arrivals decreasing by -84.9% to -99.4%.

The situation repeats itself with domestic tourism. Table 2 shows the number of domestic tourists to Penang according to states. Penang is a popular domestic tourism destination for visitors from Selangor, Perak and Kedah (possibly due to proximity to the latter two states), with Selangor consistently supplying the highest number of tourists. Nevertheless, domestic tourist arrivals from most states predictably shrunk in the last two years, with arrivals from Perlis sustaining the highest decrease in 2020 and Perak recording the highest negative growth of -89.2% in 2021. Surprisingly, Penang experienced an influx of tourists from Johor – a 246.3% increase – during the intermittent periods of reopening domestic borders in 2021.

Looking at the overall change in the total numbers of domestic tourists and trips to Penang, there is a decline between 2018 and 2019 – although absolute numbers saw an increase. As expected, the numbers dropped rapidly in 2020 and 2021, but more evidently in 2021, as border closures halted domestic tourism activity.

Figure 3 illustrates a similar trend that persisted in tourist receipts, particularly between 2018 and 2019, where the growth of 7.9% in 2019 was much lower than 2018’s 26.7%, even though the overall volume of tourist receipts had increased. A growth of 11.2% in domestic tourist receipts was observed in 2021, even though, comparatively, the receipts were actually lower.

However, the pattern of tourist receipts according to components remains fairly constant across four years (Figure 4). Domestic tourists spent more on shopping, followed by automotive fuel, food and beverage and accommodation. 2019 enjoyed a 7.5% growth in tourist expenditure before the pandemic reversed its progress in 2020 (-62%).

As one of the most substantial contributors to Penang’s economy, medical tourism faced immense challenges during the pandemic. The industry enjoyed an impressive increase in medical tourist arrivals of 10%, and 19.2% in revenue in 2019 before it was suspended by the pandemic (Figure 5). Although the negative growth rates eased a little in 2021, the number of health travellers and total revenue in 2021 continued on a downward trend.

Fortunately, the prospects are looking positive this year, with high vaccination rates and the complete reopening of both international and domestic borders. As a matter of fact, the number of international tourists from the top 10 visiting countries has increased by 1,625.7% compared to 2021’s numbers – and this only includes visitors up to June 2022. That’s not all; Penang’s medical tourism industry has also been enjoying healthy growth rates this year, seeing the highest month-on-month revenue growth of 630.6% in June, with a traveller growth of 358.7% in August.

Yeong Pey Jung

is a senior analyst with the Socioeconomics and Statistics Programme at Penang Institute. She is a reading enthusiast and is surgically attached to her Kindle.