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Malaysia Outperforms Regional Rivals in Tourism Rebound
28 April 2023 | Written by Chris Alexander

A new report from Standard Chartered Global Research has revealed the speed and extent of post-pandemic recovery efforts in Southeast Asia. The results assign the most impressive and fast-paced tourism recovery to Malaysia, where the sector has bounced back to 92% of its 2019 levels.

By comparison, regional neighbours Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are currently all averaging about 60% of their 2019 visitor numbers. The Standard Chartered report, which was co-authored by ASEAN and South Asia chief economist Edward Lee and Asia economist Jonathan Koh, provides a useful snapshot of progress on the road to recovery.

And it appears Malaysia is ticking off the milestones on this journey ahead of schedule. Neighbouring countries have been held back in their recovery efforts by the slower-than-expected return of Chinese travellers. Visitors from this key segment (which also includes Hong Kong holidaymakers) is only at about 18.4% of pre-pandemic levels, following the belated relaxation of border controls and travel restrictions in these source markets.

In terms of overall revenue, the report projects that Thailand will lead the way this year, followed by Malaysia in second place. The travel balance metric measures each country’s increase in tourism-related revenue. Lee and Koh report that Malaysia’s travel balance improved to -0.1% of GDP in 2022 from -0.9% in 2021, but remains below the 2017-2019 average of 2.2% of GDP.

Thailand’s travel balance, on the other hand, shot up to 0.8% of its GDP; a massive improvement on the 0.1% registered in 2021, but still far short of the 2017-2019 average of 8.6% of GDP. According to the report, “improving travel balances should continue to support the Thai baht and Malaysian ringgit.”

The report findings are the latest in a series of positive developments for tourism in Malaysia, where recovery has outstripped expectations and caused officials to revise targets upwards for the months ahead. The country initially projected 2.5 million foreign travellers in 2023. Now, with borders back open and tourism booming, Malaysia expects to welcome 9.6 million international visitors by the end of the year.