The number of Middle Eastern tourists visiting Malaysia this month and next could plunge by half based on initial data obtained from travel agencies.
Traditionally, more Arab tourists reach Malaysia in the third quarter alone than in the first half of the year.
They also spend three times more than the average tourist.
Based on the RM6,070 spending per person, a 50 per cent drop in arrivals could result in potential revenue loss of RM300 million for the country.
While the tourism industry had expected a decline in arrivals given the shorter summer prior to the fasting month of Ramadan, they did not expect the number to be halved.
Factors cited for the decline, apart from the global economic crisis and influenza A(H1N1), included the lack of advertisements in the Arab world this year.
In July-September last year, Middle East tourist arrivals fell 6.3 per cent to 108,665 from the comparable period in 2007.
Travel agents are bracing for worse this year.
Asia Overland Services Tour And Travels group managing director Anthony Wong said its inbound market from the Middle East had dropped 40-50 per cent.
"We used to bring in 18,000 to 22,000 in July and August. Now, we are not busy at all," he told Business Times.
"This time around, we have been told by our agents in the Middle East that there has been a lack of advertisements compared to previous years," Wong said.
World Express Tours group president Tunku Iskandar Tunku Abdullah said that business at his agency had fallen 70 per cent in terms of tourist arrivals as well as value.
"Currently, even forward booking is down due to the lack of advertisements in the Middle East," Tunku Iskandar said.
He said that agents in the Middle East had told him that there had been a significant drop in advertisements on Malaysia compared to previous years.
"They tell me that there is very little promotion that consumers can see compared to previously and to advertisements to other destinations like Thailand, Singapore and Australia."
Asia Experience Tours, touted as the largest agency for inbound travel from the Middle East, is expecting a more than 40 per cent drop in business in terms of tourist numbers and value.
Its chief executive officer Ngiam Foon described this year as a "disaster", citing the economic crisis, H1N1 outbreak and other, better, deals offered by regional competitors.
"This year, they are not coming in big numbers," he said.
Calls to the secretary-general of the Ministry of Tourism went unanswered.
It is understood that the advertisement and promotion budget alone for Middle East countries in 2007 and last year was around RM20 million.
In reality, the amount is far more when the cost of its officers' fees, mega familiarisation programme, agent incentives and contributions from airlines are taken into account.
Last week, the Minister of Tourism revised downwards the projection for tourist arrivals this year to 19 million from 20 million.
Source : Business Times
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