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Malaysia ranks among top 10 tourist destinations

The tourism industry in Malaysia currently ranks as the second biggest foreign exchange earner of the country. As far as the results go, promoting its tourism industry has been one of the country’s success stories. In celebrating Malaysia’s 53 years of nationhood, its tourism industry certainly deserves due recognition for its contributions to the nation in terms of income generation, infrastructure development and job creation.

Despite encountering various obstacles along the way, the tourism industry has remained resilient. It continues to be an important economic activity benefiting various business areas such as hospitality, transportation, retail trade, recreational and leisure facilities. Its resilience is largely attributed to the active participation of both the public and private sectors in undertaking vigorous promotion and marketing, diversifying target markets, as well as improving competitiveness of tourism products and services to sustain interest among visitors to Malaysia.

The Malaysian Government recognizes the vital role of the tourism industry as a major contributor to its economy. Over the years, the tourism industry in Malaysia has grown significantly, both in terms of tourist arrivals and economic contribution.

From a mere 5.5 million tourist arrivals in 1998, contributing some RM8.5 billion ($2.7 billion) in tourism receipts, Malaysia successfully attracted 23.65 million tourists in 2009. Despite being a challenging year for many countries last year due to various crises such the economic slowdown, Malaysia has shown its resilience in facing such odds by recording a 7.2 per cent increase in tourist arrivals. In fact, the targeted 19 million international tourist arrivals forecast for 2009 was well achieved by October. In terms of receipts, it reached RM53.37 billion ($16.7 billion) in 2009, which represented a 2.8% increase compared to RM49.6 billion ($15.5 billion) in the previous year.

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) barometer, Malaysia made it into the top 10 countries with the highest international tourist arrivals for 2009. It secured the 9th position, up two notches from the previous year. In the Asian market, Malaysia ranks second after China in terms of tourist arrivals.

The rise in tourist arrivals can also be attributed to other factors such as increased regional travel and greater air services connectivity. The rapid expansion of budget airlines within the region such as AirAsia, ValuAir and Tiger Airways, along with budget hotels, has certainly made traveling more affordable to consumers. In brief, low airfares and attractive holiday packages by low cost carriers have helped encourage greater regional travel.

Over the years, Malaysia has steadily worked its way into the hearts of travelers as a unique holiday destination. It has been chosen as one of the world’s top ten countries for 2010 in Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2010” as well as one of the “Best Value Destinations” for 2010. But it wasn’t the first time Malaysia is being recognized by Lonely Planet. In 2008, it was Lonely Planet’s top pick of countries for best holiday destination. Malaysia was similarly honored by US magazine Global Traveler as Best International Tourism Destination for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008.

There are many factors that contribute to Malaysia’s appeal as a tourist destination and the success of its tourism industry. Generally, the country’s rich and colorful multi-cultural heritage is a hit with tourists. Malaysia showcases a kaleidoscope of customs, religions, traditions, festivals, arts & crafts and cuisines of the Malays, Chinese, Indians, and various ethnic groups that continues to fascinate visitors from around the world.

Those who love shopping will be pleased to know that Malaysia offers a wide array of quality merchandise that caters to all budgets and tastes. Living up to its fame as a shopping haven, shopping malls and retail outlets around the country offer unbeatable discounts and promotions during the three major shopping carnivals — the Malaysia Grand Prix Sale (held in conjunction with the F1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix), Malaysia Mega Sale and the Malaysia Year-End Sale.   

Malaysia is also fortunate to have been endowed with numerous assets and attractions to suit the taste and preference of every visitor. Nature lovers would be mesmerized by the country’s 130 million-year-old rainforests, exotic marine parks, as well as rich biodiversity and ecosystem. Malaysia is also proud to have some of its destinations listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely the Gunung Mulu National Park, Kinabalu Park, and the historical sites of Georgetown and Melaka.

In brief, whether you’re looking for colorful multi-racial culture and delectable cuisine, exciting tourist destinations, ecotourism, homestay, historical heritage, untouched rainforests, pristine beaches and islands or modern shopping centers — you can find them all here. These attractions are complemented by the country’s world-class hospitality services and modern tourism infrastructure.

The Ministry of Tourism Malaysia is also laying great emphasis on developing the homestay program which gives a chance to participants to experience the daily life in a traditional village or kampung. It has been very successful in attracting many foreign tourists, students and non-students alike to visit Malaysia, particularly from Singapore, Japan, Australia and South Korea. From 2006 to May 2010, a total of 102,881 foreign tourists participated in this program. Participants have a choice of close to 3,000 participating homes involving 139 homestay nationwide. The Ministry of Tourism has also carried out the initiative to package homestay with authentic rail journey. Tourists get to experience journey via trains through 21 stations, involving 22 selected homestay. 

Other efforts include the promotion of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program, which aims to attract more foreign citizens to stay long-term or retire in Malaysia, as well as draw high net-worth individuals to invest in the country. From 2002 to April 2010, the program has successfully attracted 13,871 participants, with majority of them from China, Bangladesh, UK, Japan and Singapore. In order to attract more foreigners to join the program, the Ministry of Tourism set up the Malaysia My Second Home One-Stop Center in May 2006 which is basically a hub to address MM2H-related enquiries and applications.

Malaysia is also becoming a popular destination for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) due to the availability of excellent infrastructure and facilities in the country.

Other initiatives include the promotion of medical and wellness packages, as well as parks and gardens in Malaysia since the country is blessed with multifarious beautiful and exotic flora and fauna.

Malaysia is also a good value-for-money destination. According to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009, Malaysia ranks among the top 32 countries (out of 133). The ranking also placed Malaysia in the 4th spot for Price Competitiveness.

Tourism will continue to be promoted as one of the strategic growth sectors that can help to propel economic growth and create employment. We are working toward increasing the contribution of tourism industry to our National Gross Domestic Product.

The target under the Tenth Malaysia Plan (2011 — 2015) is to improve Malaysia’s position to be within the top 10, in terms of global tourism receipts in 2015. Malaysia also aims to increase the tourism sector’s contribution by 2.1 times, contributing RM115 billion ($36 billion) in receipts and providing 2.7 million jobs in the tourism industry in 2015.

Tourism industry players in Malaysia are set to work harder to achieve the 2015 target. They will strive to attract a larger share of high spending travellers, and capture a higher share of high growth segments, particularly from Russia, India, China and the Middle East, besides increasing the number of tourist arrivals.