BERITA DAILY LETTER: From CY Ming, via e-mail

The Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board had just released figures for arrivals of foreign tourists to Malaysia until last October.

There was a 2.5 percent decline of visitor arrivals for the first 10 months of last year over the corresponding period in 2016.

If the performance of the first 10 months was replicated over the remaining two months, then total visitor arrivals for last year would reach 25,805,916, which will be six million short of the targeted 31.8 million.

If so, it would be five consecutive years when actual visitor arrivals have fallen short of targets. The targets from 2013 to 2017 were 26.8m, 28m, 29.4m, 30.5m and 31.8m, but arrivals were 25,038,778, 27,431,338, 25,359,708, 26,467,770 and estimated 25,805,916 for last year.

When combined, the number of visitors targeted for the five years would total 146.5 million and arrivals 130,103,440, or about 16.4 million short.

The target set for this year is 33.1 million but actual arrivals would likely be another six million short. Achieving 27.1 million visitors would be quite a feat, as it means a 5.0 percent growth after a 2.5 percent decline last year.

Dishing out the same promotional campaigns with limited budget coupled with unfriendly policies and practices have resulted in lesser visitors after 2014, while other countries in the region pulled out all stops to welcome tourists.

A good example is visitors from India. In 2014, we received 770,108 tourists from India and together with China, we were counting on these two Asian giants to supply the bulk of visitors and be less reliant on our Asean neighbours, which when combined contributed 75 percent of all arrivals.

But visitors from India kept falling each year, from 722,141 in 2015 to 638,578 in 2016, and estimated 539,548 for last year.

Both India and China are huge countries with population spread over vast territories. It was a big hassle to apply for Malaysian visas by submitting passports to Malaysian consulates. Mercifully, Malaysia introduced electronic visas starting with China and followed by India.

Naturally, there were teething problems but these were overcome sooner in China than India but by the time they were fixed, the damage had been done. Instead of putting up with all the inconveniences of obtaining Malaysian visas, tourists opted for other countries.

With new found destinations that welcome them with open arms, it would be tough to lure them back to our country. This is not lost by Indian airlines as none chose to fly to Malaysia.

Only Malaysia based airlines such as AirAsia and Malindo are operating between India and Malaysia.

Without additional flights that could be provided by Indian airlines, promotions would come to naught if there are not enough seats capacity.

The top five countries with largest number of visitors to Malaysia are Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand and Brunei. Combined, they contribute over 80 percent of all arrivals.

India is placed a distant sixth and accounts for only 2.0 percent, but has the greatest potential for growth. Right now, India visitors to Malaysia is less than a quarter compared to China when it could have been closer to half.

India’s population is currently slightly lower than China but would soon overtake as the most populous country. With close proximity to Malaysia, we should take more concrete measures to draw more visitors from the entire Indian sub-continent.

But it requires much harder work than merely setting higher targets for visitor arrivals every year.