PETALING JAYA: Local and inbound tourism has played a major role in economic growth, while being one of the biggest employers in the country before the pandemic.

Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said many in the industry had to close shop when the pandemic hit as travel and tourism activities came to a halt.

He added that although the country is now seeing the industry recover slowly, going back to pre-pandemic levels will not happen overnight and even the UN has said tourism is only expected to fully recover in 2024.

Tan said even with tourist arrivals increasing, the volume is still not enough to sustain the industry, adding that the government needs to do more to help this major contributor to the nation’s coffers recover.

“There needs to be more visibility abroad to attract foreign tourists. The Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board and the private sector need to work hand in hand to attract tourists to the country.

“The time has come to think outside the box and come up with new strategies to help the tourism sector recover. The government needs to help tourism players stand on their feet.”

He said foreign tourists play a big role and most tourist arrivals in the country are from Asean countries, followed by China, India, Europe and the Middles East, adding that the China market remains closed and this hurts companies that rely heavily on arrivals from there.

Tan said while there is no doubt the tourism industry is picking up, the high cost of long-distance travel and uncertain economic situation has resulted in lower arrivals of tourists from far-off destinations.

“The government needs to emphasise on domestic tourism by providing incentives to travel locally as the industry slowly recovers from the pandemic. The private sector must also ensure it has the right tools and ensure its products meet the standards of local tourists as well as employ enough staff to cater to any surge in demand,” Tan said.

To help local players, he suggested the government incentivise domestic travel in Budget 2023 through a special income tax relief of RM8,000 per person for local travel packages that are purchased through licensed travel agencies or tour operators.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said the ministry has set a new target of 9.2 million tourist arrivals this year, with tourism receipts of RM26.8 billion. The previous target was 4.5 million.

Tourist arrivals in 2018 were 25.83 million, with tourism receipts of RM84.1 billion. In 2019, arrivals were 26.1 million with receipts of RM86.1 billion. In 2020, there were 4.7 million arrivals with tourism receipts of RM12.7 billion. Last year, only 134,728 arrivals were recorded with receipts of RM238.73 million due to the Covid-19 situation.

As of July this year, there were 3.21 million tourist arrivals with RM9.35 billion in tourism revenue recorded.

The top five highest arrivals were from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, China and the Philippines.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in Malaysia, contributing 6.7% to gross domestic product in 2019. This dropped to 2% in 2020.

Tourism is also one of the largest sectors of employment, with close to a quarter of the total workforce.

In 2019, tourism sector contributions exceeded exports of palm oil (RM70 billion) and rubber gloves (RM22 billion).