Putrajaya (The Star/ANN) - Tourist spending in Malaysia increased by 4 per cent in the first half of 2012, generating 26.8 billion ringgit (US$8.58 billion) in revenue.
This was about 1 billion ringgit ($320 million) more than that earned in the same period last year, the tourism ministry revealed in its latest report.
Its minister Dr Ng Yen Yen said there was steady growth in the sector over the last six months, registering 2.4 per cent increase in tourist arrivals with 11,632,483 entering the country compared with 11,362,862 last year.
She said the Asean region continued to be the largest contributor with 73.8 per cent share of total arrivals.
Dr Ng attributed the growth to the support from trade partners and increased air connectivity from key destinations like Beijing in China, Hong Kong and Kansai in Japan.
"Key international-level tourism events such as the Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, 1Malaysia International Shoe Festival and Citrawarna are also contributors to the continued growth," said Dr Ng during a press conference at the ministry's offices in Putrajaya yesterday.
According to data from the Immigration Department, the three highest growers year on year in the region were the Philippines (45.3 per cent), followed by China (34.2 per cent) and Japan (32.5 per cent).
This was despite a change in recording arrivals based on nationality instead of country of residence, resulting in expatriates working in Asean countries not being regarded as travellers.
Overall, Asean saw a 1 per cent decrease in arrivals, with the most affected countries being arrivals from Thailand (-11.5 per cent), Singapore (-4.8 per cent), Cambodia (-4.2 per cent) and Brunei (-1.2 per cent).
Dr Ng said the change also affected Australian arrivals, which declined by 10.4 per cent, since many Australian permanent residents were nationals of other countries like New Zealand, India and China.
She also attributed the decrease to Malaysia Airlines' withdrawal of its Perth-Kota Kinabalu route from January this year.
Other countries to register a decrease year on year included Sweden (-22.4 per cent), New Zealand (-16.3 per cent) and South Africa (10.7 per cent).
Long-haul markets showed slower growth, with the top three nations being Oman (33.2 per cent), Russia (28.2 per cent) and France (20.6 per cent).
Dr Ng said that more direct flights from Malaysia to long-haul destinations like Russia would be necessary to make travel from those countries to Malaysia more convenient and encourage tourism.