Commentary Local

Tourism numbers often do not match up

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TheMole
Written by TheMole

March 6, 2017

Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column by Aziz Hassan

FOR many countries, tourism is becoming more and more a very important source of revenue, not just for the government and those directly involved in the travel trade but also for the people in general.

Park yourself at a café on the Champs-Elysees in Paris during the peak tourist season and you begin to realise how important the sector is to the economy. It’s the same on London’s Oxford Street or any of the city’s other attractions.

Which is the most popular city in the world with foreign tourists remains a point of contention but the top three have been dominated by London, Paris and Bangkok for some years now.

Malaysia has had its fair share of tourists but after a very good year in 2014, with statistics from Tourism Malaysia putting the total at 27.44 million, the number dropped to 25.72 million in 2015 and 22.06 million last year, a total almost similar to the one recorded way back in 2008.

But the problem is that different sources at times tend to give different numbers. What makes it worse is when the different information is given by official sources.

Recently Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz spoke of a target of 31 million arrivals for this year against that of 31.8 million stated at the Tourism Malaysia website and projected revenue of RM114 billion (against RM118 billion under Tourism Malaysia.

He went on to say that last year the country received 26,757,392 million visitors who brought in revenue of RM82.1 billion. The other official figures are 22.06 million arrivals and receipts of just over RM69 billion. See the problem?

Even the average spent daily on food and beverages can differ depending on who or what your sources are but surely you can’t believe that the average daily spending by a foreign tourist on F&B in Malaysia is RM500 when it costs about half or just slightly more for two persons to have two decent meals in a more expensive city like London.

In respect of arrivals by countries, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and since the last few years China are high on the list.

Even here you are bound to find it all a bit doubtful if you do your homework and cross-check with statistics from Singapore and Indonesia. The former outlines it in detail and is very thorough to the extent of breaking down the information into age groups and repeat visits.

The fact though is that the numbers from Singapore and Indonesia on outbound trips by their people do not match up with the arrival figures we have.

There is another catch and this involves the Thais and Indonesians and probably some Africans, of whom there are many around.

As far as is known, a foreigner entering Malaysia for a minimum of a night’s stay is officially categorised as a tourist. You may want to know that Singapore excludes as a tourist anyone entering the island by land, regardless your nationality.

The number of Thai tourists here is clearly inflated by the tom yam brigade, these people from the southern Thai provinces like Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala who work at the tom yam stalls all over the country who exit every 30 days when their visas expire and return usually on the same day.

Many Indonesians do it too. They work here without the required permits and when the time is up, exit usually from Port Klang or Malacca, stay a few nights in Dumai on Sumatra’s east coast and then return here.

While researching on the sector some years ago I stumbled on some statistics which also created doubts on our tourism numbers.

These statistics were taken down from the Malaysian Association of Hotels when its website was being reconstructed about six years ago but the detailed breakdown of hotel guests by nationalities just prior to the reconstruction did not come close to matching up with the number of arrivals given at the Tourism Malaysia website.

For almost all nationalities, the number who stayed in the association’s member hotels was less than half the number of arrivals. So where did the rest stay?

And if indeed so many put themselves up in homestays, a highly unlikely scenario, how could we end up making so much revenue from tourist accommodation? The average hotel occupancy rate after all is only about 62 or 63%.

Herein lies the next big poser.

Do you know that even if all the hotel rooms listed by Tourism Malaysia are taken up a 100 per cent only by foreign tourists for 365 days a year, we will still not get the receipts as stated by the tourism agency?

A 100 per cent occupancy by them only, no less. That average room rate a few years ago was put as US$71 and at that time the exchange rate averaged RM3 to the dollar.

You have the formula you work out the maths and you will have the answers staring at your face. Crucially, has there ever been an official audit on the numbers we see from the tourism sector?

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TheMole

TheMole