Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tourism still thriving in Malaysia

Industry players upbeat on promising figures up to July

Domestic tourism players are upbeat about the prospects of their industry for the remainder of this year on promising industry figures up to July and as the sector enters peak season period.

The optimisim is despite critical challenges facing the sector, such as the worsening Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic amid a global economic downturn.

According to the Tourism Ministry, tourist arrivals from January to May this year totalled 9.4 million, an increase of 2.6% compared with the corresponding period in 2008.

And despite the rising number of H1N1 cases lately, Malaysia recorded slightly over two million tourist arrivals for July, an increase of 3.9% from the same month in 2008.

Tan Sin Chong ... ‘Although further uncertainty has been added, I am optimistic'.

There were 13.35 million tourist arrivals from January to July 2009, a rise of 3.6% from a year earlier.

The Association of Tourism Attractions’ (ATA) Penang chapter chairman, Eddy Low, said the tourism sector would remain strong going forward, although he ackowledged that H1N1 remained a real threat to the industry.

“Domestic and short haul markets will rule the day,” he said, adding that “outbound and ground services are still attractive. Airfares are dirt cheap.”

He said connectivity was shaping up well on a regional basis as well as in the country itself.

Reliance Pacific Bhd managing director Tan Sin Chong was also optimistic about the outlook of the domestic tourism industry.

Visitor arrivals to Malaysia for the first and second quarters saw growth, he noted.

“There has been a 2.2% growth in the first quarter of 2009 compared with (the same quarter of) 2008. The second quarter registered an even stronger growth of 4.7%,” he said, adding that indications of stronger tourist arrivals projected a brighter outlook from September, which is traditionally peak travel season.

Given these promising signs and evidence of some recovery in the global economy, the outlook for the domestic tourism sector for the remainder of the year had definitely improved despite the growing threat of H1N1, he said.

“Although further uncertainty (H1N1) has been added, I am still optimistic,” he said, noting that the upgrade of the pandemic to Phase 6 by the World Health Organisation was related to geographical spread and not severity.

“Compared with SARS in 2003, the impact is less severe. Given the resilience of tourism, I expect tourism to bounce back much stronger within the next three months,” Tan said.

Another positive indicator for the industry is the lower prices of travel and hotel accommodation.

“Overall prices have reduced by 20% to 40%. This should act as a stimulus for people to travel,” Tan said.

RAM Holding Bhd chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said declining concerns about job losses and improving consumer sentiment were encouraging more travel.

“But the level is still below the pre-crisis trend,” he noted.

Cheap fares and competitively priced holiday packages had cushioned the fall in revenue and aided the gradual recovery of the local and international tourism segments, Yeah said.

But he warned that the threat posed by the H1N1 pandemic was real.

“In the coming months, the local and international industry faces an imminent threat in the form of the insidious H1N1 pandemic as rising fatalities may curb the appetite to travel,” he said.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents vice-president Khadijah Rahman agreed that H1N1 posed a real threat to the tourism sector.

“The general consensus is that people are worried for their safety and perhaps, wise enough not to take the chance of contracting the flu. Some have even gone to the extent of cancelling their reservations,” she said.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in a report in March, had projected that the Malaysian travel and tourism industry would generate RM135.2bil in economic activity this year but total demand was expected to decline by 4.4%.

WTTC is a forum for business leaders in the travel and tourism industry.

Source : STAR
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