PETALING JAYA: A Johor-based tourism association has cast doubts on statistics pointing to a drop in tourist arrivals from Singapore, saying the mushrooming of malls, hotels and Airbnb in Johor and Melaka paints a different picture.
Johor Tourism Association chairman Jimmy Leong said these establishments seemed to be targeted at Singaporeans coming from across the Causeway.
Business daily The Edge recently reported that there was a year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals from the island republic, from 12.4 million in 2017 to 10.6 million in 2018.
Tourism Malaysia director-general Musa Yusof cited several reasons for the drop, including traffic issues at the Causeway and Singaporeans’ preferences for new and different experiences.
Leong said the trend of Singaporean tourists entering Malaysia had changed.
He said more were coming in as free and independent travellers (FITs).
“They no longer come in groups or organised tours but as independent travellers.
“Technology has made it easy to book rooms on Airbnb or move around using Grab, so they are more independent,” he told FMT.
Leong questioned the mechanism used to tally the number of Singaporean visitors.
“When you enter from across the Causeway, there is no requirement to state the reason. So, while you can tell how many Singaporeans are coming in, you will not know their purpose for doing so,” he said.
He said this data was important to allow the authorities to better understand the tourists’ requirements.
Leong said the government must update the laws to keep up with the latest travel and tourism trends, where more visitors are coming in as FITs than in tour groups.
“In the early days, they had to be accompanied by tour guides but today this is not the case. On the road, we can see a lot of white multipurpose vehicles (MPVs) being used to bring tourists around for sightseeing.”
He said this is illegal because individuals were not allowed to operate tours using their private vehicles as there were requirements where licences and insurance were concerned.
“We need new regulations, just like how we have adapted to Grab. If you do not regulate them, they will operate outside the law,” he said.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang has a different take on the Singapore arrivals, saying the drop indicated a smaller number of repeat visitors.
Tan said the contributing factors included fewer new attractions to woo Singaporeans, a perception that Malaysia was unsafe, and the weekend traffic jams along the North-South Expressway.
He said Japan and South Korea drew more tourists from Singapore last year and attributed this to increased interest in television programmes from the two countries, better connectivity to other parts of Japan such as Hokkaido and Okinawa, as well as more affordable travel packages.
In the region, he said Thailand had a campaign aimed at attracting visitors from Singapore with shopping vouchers.
“Our competitors seem to be getting their act together,” he said.
Tan said that coach operators had also complained that not all immigration counters were opened at Malaysia’s international borders, leading to long queues.
“I would suggest that we have a special lane for coach operators to ensure faster, smoother access,” he said.
He also said there was a lack of new tourism products, with Malaysia having a similar calendar of events “year in and year out”.
“I would suggest bringing back some traditional events like the Kiulu 4M Challenge in Sabah or experiential tours as they are what most travellers are looking for,” he said.
Experiential tours allow people to experience a place through its history, people, culture, food, and environment.