The best way to develop tourism is through shopping

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The top activity and expenditure of foreign tourists was shopping.

AP

If you were to ask inbound tour operators why foreigners choose to visit Malaysia, their answers are likely to include culture, food, and ecotourism, as these are often incorporated in our tourism promotions.

But if visitors were to request, “Show me your culture”, tour operators could be stumped as most would have no idea where to bring foreigners to see our culture. Are there places where culture is showcased?

If shown an activity that represents one of our many communities such as a cultural dance, is it authentic or just a staged performance? In any case, watching a video would suffice and save much precious time.

When it comes to experiencing local foods and cuisines, one man’s meat could be another man’s poison. Consumption of pork or beef is forbidden by certain religions, and vegans abstain from meat altogether.

And people everywhere have their own preferences on how sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umami their foods should be, and deliciousness is subjective based on personal taste that varies among individuals.

While ordinary people find food and beverage with artificial colourings and flavourings appealing, those health-conscious would avoid unhealthy foods, especially those using colourings or preservatives.

Some diners choose foods that are freshly cooked and served piping hot, while others are used to consuming foods that have been prepared hours earlier and have since cooled down to room temperature.

Fruits and vegetables begin to oxidise as soon as they are cut open. Oxidation in apples is clearly visible after they are cut as enzymes in the fruit would turn it brown, which is known as enzymatic browning.

It is common to find cut chillies and garlics placed in a common bowl at Chinese eateries for diners to take what they need and place them in their own mini plates and have soya sauce added for better taste.

Red chillies that are freshly cut are hot but becomes much less so after a few hours. Those who love garlic could reek of garlic breath, more so after consuming raw garlic that has oxidised and turned stinky.

Another good example is the king of fruits, which is heavenly to durian lovers but repulsive for those smelling the strong odour for the first time and may never acquire the taste due to psychological reasons.

As for ecotourism, only a small number of foreign tourists would pay for a tour package to visit a forest reserve or explore a cave, although everyone marvels at our pristine jungles and natural environment.

Whether they are foreigners or Malaysians, visitors could easily go by themselves to a natural site such as a beach or island; and enjoy a variety of foods and witness our culture, which is just a way of life.

There is little need to go through a travel agent or buy a package from a tour operator as public transport by air, road and rail could easily be booked directly, and so are accommodations and e-hailing services.

Clearly, the intermediary business of making travel arrangements is not big enough to support the 4,330 travel and tour companies that are currently registered with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

The Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) was first announced in 2011 with the target of attracting 36 million foreign tourists and earning RM168 billion in tourism receipts annually by 2020.

In the ensuing years, MTTP became the buzzword. Many people jumped on the tourism bandwagon by starting their own tour companies, falsely believing that the travel trade business equates to tourism.

But it is only a relatively tiny portion in the grand scheme of things, as tourism is a gargantuan business when all sectors are combined, with the main ones being shopping, accommodation, food and beverage.

Even with inbound, outbound and domestic tours combined, their total income constituted less than two percent of the RM240.2 billion tourism expenditure in 2019, as stated in the Tourism Satellite Account.

For the same year, Tourism Malaysia found that the top four activities of foreign tourists were shopping (91.2%), sightseeing in cities (90.9%), visiting historical sites (31.9%), and visiting museums (27.8%).

The top four expenditures by the 26.1 million foreign tourists spending RM89.4 billion in 2019 were shopping (33.6%), accommodation (24%), food and beverage (13.3%) and local transportation (7.6%).

Shopping would be higher if expenditures by visitors that did not stay overnight in Malaysia were to be included. In 2019, there were 8.9 million excursionists, mainly from Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand.

In addition, another RM92.6 billion was chalked up by domestic tourism in 2019. The top four main expenditures were shopping (42.1%), automotive fuel (16.7%), food and beverage (15.9%) and visited households (10.2%), as most visitors drove their own vehicles and stayed with relatives and friends.

As shopping receives the largest expenditure by far, it is the best representative of tourism. Anyone who wish to earn more money from tourism ought to be involved with shopping, either directly or indirectly.

They could operate retail outlets in shops or convert part of their premises to receive customers. Tour operators could also provide transport for the public to shop at participating factories and warehouses.

If fares for such shopping trips were charged at normal sightseeing rates, the response would be poor. Already, daily sightseeing bus tours are not operating in most cities in Malaysia because of low demand.

Shopping excursions, when joined by family members, relatives, and friends, would be great fun and a big boost to domestic tourism, raising it from mundane to something much more exciting and beneficial.

Unlike foreign tourists that could feel trapped and forced to shop in zero cost tours, domestic passengers could easily drop out of a shopping excursion by calling for transport or someone to pick them up.

Hence, those who operate such shopping excursions would exercise utmost care to safeguard their reputation and would select only the most suitable factories and warehouses to be included in the routes.

The views expressed here are strictly those of YS Chan from Kuala Lumpur.