Figures don’t add up

07 Jan 2014 / 19:49 H.

    OVER the Chinese New Year holiday period, a group of friends are arriving from the United Kingdom for a short holiday, en route to Shanghai. In June, a family of five from London will visit our shores for a two-week break.
    They will be staying in a serviced apartment and that's a small contribution to the Visit Malaysia Year programme launched last Saturday.
    Every Malaysian is expected to do his or her part and a good part of December was spent trying to persuade friends in the UK to come over, in the hope that their hospitality can be reciprocated.
    I don't know whether these fewer than a dozen people will make any significant change to the projected 28 million visitors spending a whopping RM76 billion during their stay here.
    What is the basis of considering someone a "tourist"? The World Tourism Organisation defines tourists as people "travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes".
    Let it be stated that the figures propagated by Tourism Malaysia are neither being disputed nor challenged, but there has to be an explanation as to how they are worked out, especially with the dispensation of the disembarkation cards at arrival terminals.
    Previously, visitors would have to fill details of their purpose of visit, the duration of stay, etc which will enable proper statistics to be worked out. With our Immigration Department going biometric with a view to going paperless, it is certainly a reasonable question that ought to be asked.
    Again for various unexplained expediencies, figures are spewed out which makes one wonder if someone is pulling something out of a hat. For example, the director of Tourism Malaysia in Beijing, Noran Ujang, said that Malaysia is expected to attract two million Chinese tourist arrivals in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year.
    But statistics being figures, they can sometimes be mind-boggling. How were such numbers arrived at? The arithmetic does not seem to work out – logically. Two million divided by 365 days (in a year) averages 5,479 Chinese tourists coming in daily to Malaysia.
    This means on the average again, this works out to 10 Airbus 380s landing daily in our airports carrying people from China. Is this possible or are they taking a slow boat across the South China Sea?
    More questions as more figures are churned out in the name of tourism. Does the 28 million include the 12 million-odd Singaporeans who cross over every year? Do they include the "walk-in" crowd at our border checkpoints in Padang Besar and Sungai Golok?
    Do they comprise the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who enter the country?
    These questions have to be emphasised because in 2007, the Selangor Government in its imprudent attempt to declare itself as "fully-developed state", counted itself as receiving several million tourists. The reasoning was that the KL International Airport and Port Klang, the sea gateway to the country, were in Selangor.
    The former tourism minister, Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, at the launch of a watch exhibition in September 2011 said: "Since 2008, we have been welcoming more than two million tourists every December. Last year alone, 'A Journey through Time' brought in over 1 million visitors from more than 30 countries ..."
    Going by her claims, I had reason to comment: "If one million people visited an exhibition held over 10 days, it would mean that on the average, there were 100,000 visitors each day. If these visitors were foreigners, and on the average, if a plane carried 300 passengers each, it would have needed 334 planes to land every day at the KLIA.
    Given that airports operate an average of 18 hours each day, it would have meant that about 19 planes would have touched down each hour or one every three minutes."
    I am walking down memory lane not to ridicule anyone but to reiterate the fact that such incredulous figures make a mockery of our tourism promotional activities.
    Like all Malaysians, this writer wants more tourists on our shores to justify the vast amounts invested in promoting Malaysia. However, the expenditure must commensurate with the results. By providing unauthenticated figures, we are merely feeding misinformation.
    By the way, how was the figure RM76 billion arrived at? Going by the figures, each of the 28 million men, women and child visiting Malaysia would have to spend RM2,700 each. Is this plausible?
    R. Nadeswaran has been involved and been a keen observer of the tourism trade since Visit Malaysia Year 1984. Comments:

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