In the decade from 2010 to 2019, Malaysia received 257,837,243 foreign tourist arrivals that included 125,965,956, or 49 percent, from Singapore. In other words, tourist arrivals to our country used to average 25.8 million per year, of which 12.6 million were Singaporeans.
As most of them were regular visitors, Singaporeans travelled confidently on their own, especially in peninsular Malaysia. Many enjoyed driving to Melaka, Klang Valley and Genting Highlands, while others ventured further up north to Ipoh and Penang or the east coast.
Large numbers flew to international airports at Langkawi, Georgetown, Sepang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Apart from travelling for holiday or business, many came to visit friends and relatives. A sizeable number own residential and commercial properties in Malaysia.
Although the services of tour operators in the peninsula were not much needed, Singaporean tourists were the main customers for many businesses such as airlines, trains, taxis, hotels, resorts, spas, shops, restaurants, theme parks, tourist attractions and entertainment centres.
But the pandemic has turned the world upside down, particularly for businesses that have been catering to Singaporean tourists, which have dropped from an average of more than a million a month previously to only 322 per month in the first quarter of this year.
Those located in Johor Bahru and Melaka were the hardest hit, as they have also lost excursionists that made day trips without spending overnight in Malaysia. In 2020, for example, there were 1,668,452 foreign excursionists, with 1,325,764 or 79 percent Singaporeans.
For the whole of last year, foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia totalled only 4,332,722, of which 1,541,591 or 36 percent were Singaporeans. For the first quarter of this year, total arrivals were only 25,256 and Singaporeans numbered a meagre 966.
Obviously, Singaporean tourists form the single most important market that has the greatest impact on tourism businesses in our country. As most of them had been our regular visitors, it would be naïve to think that they did not spend as much as other foreign tourists.
In fact, they were among the biggest spenders and contributed immensely to our tourist receipt. In 2018, for example, Singaporeans spent on average RM1,070 per person per day during their stay in Malaysia, and over RM38 billion in total tourist receipt in 2016.
In contrast, we recorded only RM12.69 billion from 4.33 million foreign tourist arrivals for the whole of last year. Tourist receipt for this year is likely to hit bottom, as we may end up with only 100,000 tourists in 2021 if first quarter arrivals are repeated for the rest of the year.
However, Singaporean tourists would return en masse to our shores if our country were again safe for them to visit as in the past, without infectious diseases such as Covid-19. If daily infection cases are brought down to triple digits, many may still be apprehensive.
Hence, it is imperative we make all efforts to bring down daily cases to no more than double digits so that international tourism can fully recover. Our success or failure in inbound tourism depends on the Singapore market. This is a litmus test we must pass and cannot afford to fail.
Apart from controlling the pandemic, we should also address issues as to why Singaporean tourists have been decreasing from an average of 13.3 million a year from 2010 to 2014 but fell to an average of 11.9 million annually from 2015 to 2019, with only 10.2 million in 2019.
The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan from Petaling Jaya.