GEORGE TOWN: Penang is poised to register a record year in tourism numbers and travel expenditure despite concerns raised by certain quarters that the recent floods and living costs may cost a downturn in the economic sector. The industry has become a boon with many tourists flocking to the "Pearl of the Orient" to capture the scenic beaches and heritage buildings while sampling its mouth-watering street food, culture and arts. These combination together with cost effective travel packages has made Penang a place for repeat visitors, said the travel trade community, who added that the island is now also a growing destination for the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) scene. Many domestic and international tourists from abroad especially from South East Asia, China, Japan, South Korea, and some from western countries flocked to the northern state.. Penang Global Tourism (PGT) chief Ooi Chok Yan said that the numbers of tourists for both domestically and international have seen increasing figures, surpassing the figures that they benchmarked against in previous years. For instance Ooi pointed out the total passenger traffic for departures and arrivals at Penang International Airport showed some 6.5 million in the last 11 months compared to 6.03 million for same period last year. This was equivalent to a rise of 7.98%. "The number speaks for itself," he underlined. Due to the fact that Penang has many entry points; from air to land and sea, the tourism statistics by PGT, was gleaned from hotel occupancy rates and passengers coming in via the airport and the cruise liner terminal. On what drives the sector, Ooi said that many reasons have contributed to the growth but the ringgit currency played a pivotal role in attracting people. "A weakened ringgit is one of the factors," he added. Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH, Penang chapter) chairman Khoo Boo Lim said that the uncertainties in the economy and the currency were also factors. He said hotels' accomodation rate was about 68% which was far better than last year and he hoped that occupancy rate will keep on improving especially during festivities. He said domestic tourism has witnessed a drastically rise in numbers compared to prior years. "It is part of a significant contributor to tourism here." No doubt, Khoo foresees hotel industry will see a major makeover of growth if this positive aspect continues in years to come. State MCA chief and Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman Datuk Tan Teik Cheng said records shown 233 vessel berthed at the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal (SPCT) as of last month. Also, he pointed out 357,369 international cruise passengers were recorded as of last month stating it was something to be proud of. "Tourists keep increasing here," he added while hoping it will be maintained. Penang's leisure sector growth is also enhanced with the yuan effect from China, who has grown to become an affluent country in the new millennium. China nationals have come in droves to sample the local cuisine as well as to reap their prior investments in modern mutual funds such as those made famous by the M Mall concept, who applies virtual currency for retail purchases as well as company gatherings to promote direct selling schemes.