The Instagram account of Mohd Shahril Fawzy Suhaili is regularly updated with photographs from his travels. To date, the digital content creator from Sabah has travelled to over 50 countries across five different continents.
“Travelling gave me an opportunity to learn new things in life. I’ve met many people from different walks of life and learnt about new cultures.
“They taught me things I didn’t experience in my country, which is priceless for me. Travel widens my perspective of the world,” says Mohd Shahril, 27, who hails from Kota Kinabalu.
His story is a common tale among many Malaysians nowadays. As travel becomes increasingly accessible and affordable, more people – especially the younger generation – are able to traverse the globe with ease.
Mohd Shahril says travel is certainly easier for him and his peers, as compared to say, his parents’ generation.
“Unlike the old days, now we have almost everything we need at the tips of our fingers. We can look up information on the Internet, easily search for itineraries and book flights,” he says.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang says larger numbers of Malaysians have been travelling, thanks to a better quality of life.
This is a far cry from the past when times were tough.
“The older generations are used to continuous hard work, having either survived the Japanese Occupation, or perhaps they were influenced by their parents’ hardships.
“On the other hand, young people today are more inclined to travel as part of their lifestyle. One of the most common things discussed among youths is travel, which has become a norm to them and not viewed as a luxury,” he says.
In a joint e-mail reply, Asean Tourism Research Association president Prof Dr Neethiahnanthan Ari Ragavan and Taylor’s University senior lecturer (School of Hospitality, Tourism & Events) Dr Puvaneswaran Kunasekaran both agree that the past two decades have reshaped Malaysians’ travel behaviour.
“During the early 2000s, the world was perceived as much more mobile and globalised. Tourists became much more intelligent due to the availability of the Internet and social media,” says Puvaneswaran. He and Prof Neethiahnanthan add that technology has been a major game-changer in the industry.
“Contemporary travellers have a perfect opportunity to review a great variety of packages available on the web before choosing the tourism products that meet their needs, preferences, and expectations most,” says Prof Neethiahnanthan. “Apart from that, mobile applications greatly facilitate the booking and reservation by reducing friction in surveying and purchasing tour or airline tickets,” he adds, bringing to attention online travel agent platforms.
East to West
Of course, the rise of low-cost carriers is a major contributing factor to the growth of travel among Malaysians.
Tan says affordability – as the decrease in airfares is relative to the rise in income – has enabled more Malaysians to travel both domestically and around the region. Connectivity is a boosting point.
The country has six international airports, 16 domestic and 18 airport aerodrome (short take-off and landing ports or STOLports) to accommodate growing passenger demand and sustain the operation of various types of aircraft.
“New routes will certainly encourage travellers to explore new destinations locally or regionally,” Tan says, adding that connectivity has boosted travel between Sabah/Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia.
Both Sabah and Sarawak, according to Tan, have enjoyed a steady increase of domestic visitors over the years. For the first half of this year, the number increased by 7.8% to 1,308,733 for Sabah and 16.4% to 1,404,484 for Sarawak.
AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat notes that both Kuching International Airport and Kota Kinabalu International Airport make up two of the airline’s five hubs in the country, hosting six and 10 planes respectively.
“We remain committed to serving Sabah and Sarawak. We fly multiple times a day and to multiple cities in both Sabah and Sarawak and this is something that we are continuously pushing, whether it be schedules, increased flights or new destinations,” he says.
According to AirAsia’s statistics, the number of Malaysians travelling inter and intra state in Sabah/Sarawak grew by 5% year-on-year (5.175 million pax). Meanwhile, intra-state travel between Sabah/Sarawak grew by 29% year-on-year (1.716 million pax) with inter-state travel to/from Sarawak contributing 45% (776,000 pax) of total traffic.
As a frequent traveller, Mohd Shahril says he is enjoying the increased connectivity between his home state and Peninsular Malaysia.
“With more flights from different airline companies, travelling between Sabah/Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia is easier now compared to previous times when we only had a few airlines with fewer frequency operating between these two parts of the country.
“I just hope that the airlines don’t take advantage of passengers by offering a ridiculously expensive flight rate during festive seasons,” he says.
On that note, Matta’s Tan says airfares between Sabah/Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia should be lowered to further boost domestic tourism.
This year, Matta expects Malaysians to be making about 13.2 million trips overseas. And this number will only continue to grow with the rise of technological literacy, experts note.
But the rise in tourism is also contributing to the issues of overtourism and sustainability, say Prof Neethiahnanthan. “Malaysians tend to visit popular destinations often, especially during holiday seasons, as compared to new destinations.
“This may create road congestion and carrying capacity problems which will result in lower tourism experience and satisfaction,” he explains.
He adds that overcrowding – especially in popular places like Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands, Penang, Port Dickson and Melaka – causes a disturbance to the local people during peak seasons.
The way Tan sees it, Malaysian travellers should learn how to completely disconnect while on holiday.
“Travelling trends for the past few years had been rooted on use of smartphones and sharing content on social media. But they had little time or focus to soak in the full experience of the destinations they visited.
“I would like to see more Malaysians go beyond the superficial and dig into the history and culture wherever they visit, whether locally or abroad.”