LAST year, only 134,728 foreign tourists visited Malaysia, averaging 11,227 per month.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, we received 26,100,784 foreign tourists in 2019, an average of 2,176,065 monthly.
During the first quarter of this year, the numbers remained low, with 29,797 arrivals in January, 26,760 in February and 41,496 in March.
But after travel restrictions were lifted in April, the number shot up to 392,059 for the month.
And after Covid-19 restrictions were eased in May, it rocketed to 670,474, then soared to 971,574 in June.
Tourist arrivals continued to climb steadily to 1,076,218 in July, 1,102,265 in August and 1,245,278 in September.
If arrivals for the last quarter were to average 1.5 million per month, then the total for the year would exceed 10 million.
But the average is more likely to be around 1.4 million monthly.
If so, the total for this year would be about 9.7 million, which is good compared with last year.
The top 12 nationalities that contributed the largest number of tourists arrivals were Singaporeans (2,973,135), Indonesians (799,066), Thais (379,958), Indians (187,037), Vietnamese (110,480), Chinese (108,067), Bruneians (87,038), Filipinos (80,436) British (79,015), South Koreans (77,930), Australians (76,152) and Americans (61,664).
The above figures add up to 4,113,752 or 74% of the total 5,556,281 foreign tourists from January to September who stayed for at least one night.
During the same period, there were also 2,525,098 foreigners that entered Malaysia and did not stay overnight.
These day trippers were counted separately as foreign excursionists and the above 12 nationalities contributed 2,466,101, an overwhelming 97.7%.
There are many interesting reasons why foreigners enter our country and leave after a short while.
One of the reasons is visa run. For example, Malaysia grants 30 days of visa-free entry for nationalities from 87 countries and all Asean nations (except Myanmar) and 90 days of visa-free entry for nationalities from 39 countries plus all European Union nations.
Many foreigners on social visits wishing to stay longer in our country would leave before expiry of the 30- or 90-day period for a nearby destination and then re-enter shortly to Malaysia so that they could start with a fresh 30 or 90 days visa-free stay.
This practice, known as visa run, is common in many countries. For example, in the first quarter of 2019, the main purpose for visiting Malaysia by 53,489 foreign tourists or 0.8% of the total 6,696,230 was due to a visa run.
With no new coronavirus outbreak in the coming years, tourist arrivals to Malaysia are likely to be around 18 million next year.
It will take several more years to surpass 25.8 million, which was the annual average in the decade between 2010 and 2019.
But if 30 days of visa-free entry granted for nationals from 87 countries and all Asean nations (except Myanmar) were to be extended to China and India, our tourism industry could fully recover in double quick time, provided China lifts restrictions for international leisure travel.
At the very least, Malaysia could grant 14 days of visa-free entry for China and Indian nationals as already granted to those from Iran and Libya, more so when nationalities from 39 countries and all European Union nations are enjoying 90 days of visa-free entry.
Our new Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister is fully aware of this fact, having served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China in the previous Cabinet.
He must now convince the new Home Minister that China and Indian nationals should also be accorded visa-free entry.
In 2019, Malaysia received 26,100,784 foreign tourists, with 3,114,257 from China and 735,309 from India.
In the same year, Thailand received almost 40 million foreign tourists with 11 million from China and two million from India.
Although China nationals were ranked third and India sixth in terms of tourist arrivals to Malaysia in 2019, their expenditures were the second and fifth highest.
In other words, they contributed not only to headcounts but also to tourist dollars.
Not only that, but more investments would also pour in from China and India when their nationals felt more welcome when placed on par with 126 other countries plus those from European Union and eight other Asean nations given visa-free entry for 30 or 90 days.