For many decades, Malaysia was Thailand’s top source-market in terms of visitor arrivals. In 2012, for the first time, it was overtaken by China. However, as the process of ASEAN cultural integration advances, Malaysia will remain by far the top source-market from the ASEAN countries.
Let’s start with 2006, when Malaysian visitor arrivals to Thailand totaled 1.59 million, up 15.82% over 2005. In 2010, the figure crossed the two million mark for the first time, rising to 2.05 million, up 17.13% over 2009. In 2012, Malaysian arrivals totaled 2.56 million, up 2.43% over 2011.
The main reason for the importance of this market is that about 70% of Malaysian visitors are border-crossers and by far the dominant source of business to the southern Thai provinces. Thailand is seen as a good short-haul and value-for-money destination with good transport connections and ease of access. There is also a high level of Malaysian investment in Thailand.
Malaysians holding a valid passport can easily obtain either a seven-day border pass to travel within a limited number of southern Thai provinces or a one-month visa-free facility to travel anywhere in Thailand. Most of them just cross over by car via the border checkpoints such as Sadao, Betong, and Sungai Kolok.
Top five destinations among Malaysian tourists are Hat Yai, Bangkok, Sungai Kolok, Betong, and Phuket. Krabi and Samui, and the northern Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, also enjoyed a growth in Malaysian visitors, clearly reflecting the importance and impact of the low-cost airlines.
Hat Yai, the largest city in southern Thailand, is located near the border with Malaysia. It is renowned for its outstanding seafood, served in various styles thanks to Hat Yai’s diverse population of Chinese, Malays, and Thais. Hat Yai also features a multitude of markets, both local and international in style, and has a festive nightlife, including pubs and discos that are popular with Malaysian visitors, especially the ethnic Chinese.
2. Tourism Revenue in 2012
Malaysian visitors find Thai products good value for money and an ideal place to eat and shop, especially souvenirs and gifts for friends and families.
In 2008, Malaysian visitors stayed an average of about four days and spent an average of US$121.16 per person per day, generating US$1.07 billion in total tourism income. By 2010, the average length of stay had grown to 4.56 days and the average daily expenditure to US$128.76 per person per day, generating total tourism income of US$1.2 billion.
The expenditure figures for January-June 2012 show that Malaysian visitors stayed an average of nearly five days and spent an average of US$142 per person per day.
The last available profile statistics are for 2011, but they indicate some very interesting changes and trends:
• There was a spectacular growth of 72.6% in the number of female travelers.
• Visitors traveling as part of tour groups more than doubled by 123.4% to 1.21 million while non-group visitors were down by 14.87% (1.28 million visitors).
• About 35% of Malaysian visitors were first-timers, with a very strong growth of 186.2% over 2010. However, repeat visitors were down 7.2% to 1.61 million.
• Convention delegates from Malaysia were up by 5.4% to 99,155.
• Other fast-growing segments were young people under 25 (up by 83.3%) and senior citizens aged over 65 (up by 133.8%).
4. Aviation Linkages
There has been a steady increase in airline linkages between Thailand and Malaysia. As of March 2013, there were 245 direct scheduled flights between the two countries, operated by 11 airlines, viz., Thai Airways International (TG), Malaysia Airlines (MH), Air Asia (AK), Thai Air Asia (FD), Bangkok Airways (PG), Lufthansa (LH), Egypt Air (MS), Royal Jordanian Airlines (RJ), Ethiopian Airlines (ET), Firefly (FY) and Berjaya Air (J8).
Low-cost airlines are playing a major role in boosting connectivity to and from the emerging secondary cities of ASEAN, especially the beach resorts. This will go a long way towards helping reducing the social and economic disparities between the main gateway cities and the secondary cities.
The advent of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 will further grow travel and tourism between Malaysia and Thailand. For the Malaysians, the priority now is to grow the number of Thais visiting their country. That is likely to be a major focus of attention in 2014, “Visit Malaysia Year.”
Given their geographical proximity and close cultural, social and economic relations, the two countries are set to prosper together for many years ahead.