GEORGE TOWN, March 11 — Penang’s tourism industry has seen a strong rebound since the reopening of the borders last year, according to industry leaders.
Tourism and Creative Economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin, for example, said the tourism industry has recovered by about 60 per cent as of February this year.
“We can expect a full recovery to pre-pandemic figures by the end of this year,” he said when met recently.
Both Association of Tourist Attractions Penang (ATAP) chairman Ch’ng Huck Theng and Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chapter chairman Tony Goh agreed that the tourism industry in Penang can reach 100 per cent recovery by the end of this year.
Ch’ng said tourist arrivals this year are looking better compared to the same period last year.
“The last few months leading up to the Chinese New Year were very good, but it is slowing down now as expected before things pick up again during Raya and after Raya,” he said.
“We might even see better tourism figures because more tourists are choosing to come to South-east Asia now due to reasonable prices, our unique destinations and warm weather,” he added.
He said those in cold countries would choose to come to South-east Asia to escape the winter months and snowstorms in their home countries.
“Malaysia has the advantage due to our strategic location and we are a safe and stable country, so we have a competitive edge to attract tourists,” he said.
He said it is important that the country remains stable politically to present a safe environment to tourists and investors.
Meanwhile, Goh said the hoteliers also experienced positive recovery for the whole of 2022.
“In December, it was exceptionally good, and profit was more than 100 per cent of what we used to get,” he said.
Some hotels even made back the funds they used to cover costs during the pandemic and some even gave out two months’ bonus to their staff, he added.
“Even early this year, between January and March, we can see revenue exceeding the numbers in the same period for 2022,” he said.
He said that he expects this quarter will see more than a 100 per cent increase compared to the last quarter of 2022.
However, the hotels were also facing challenges such as a shortage of manpower, increasing operating costs and a hike in electricity bills.
“We are facing higher costs of running the business just as business is picking up,” he said.
Goh said the Penang state government has aggressively promoted the state overseas and this helped to attract travellers to the state.
“The state has been doing a lot, such as getting more direct flights to Penang and promoting Penang overseas so I believe we will do well by the end of the year,” he said.
Currently, he said 70 per cent of hotel guests are domestic travellers, but there was also an increase in foreign travellers, especially from neighbouring counties.
Goh said there are now more travellers from India, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam, in addition to medical tourists from Indonesia.
“We are also seeing a rebound in western tourists despite not having any direct flights to Penang from those countries,” he said.
With direct flights from China resuming, such as the Guangzhou to Penang direct flight, he said Chinese tourists will also be returning soon.
Yeoh said the state had put in place strategies and support for the tourism industry throughout the pandemic to get them through the challenging times.
“We are organising more campaigns and digital marketing to promote Penang,” he said.
He said the state is introducing activities and programmes to enhance the tourism landscape and products in the state to attract both domestic and foreign tourists.
“We will partner with more industry players to come up with packages to attract more travellers,” he said.
The state is targeting traditional markets such as travellers from Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, while at the same time, exploring connectivity between Penang and Japan, India, Korea and Middle Eastern countries, he said.
Other than medical tourism, Yeoh said the state will also focus on other types of tourism such as eco-tourism and art tourism.
“We will be organising a major art festival at the end of this year in collaboration with the art industry in Penang as part of our efforts to promote Penang as a culture and arts destination,” he said.