Malaysia’s tourism renaissance defined by influencers, trends, innovations

As travel evolves, technology, collaborations and content creators come together to create an inviting virtual space for potential tourists 


MALAYSIA’S tourism industry is expected to exceed its targeted 18 million international tourist arrivals by the end of the year. In the first nine months of 2023, the number stood at 14 million, generating RM49 billion in tourist receipts. 

Analysing the top 10 contributing countries, Tourism Malaysia told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that Singapore emerged as the leading source with 5.9 million tourist arrivals, followed by Indonesia (2.2 million), Thailand (1.2 million), China (one million), Brunei (574,856), India (472,858), South Korea (301,006), Vietnam (272,852), the Philippines (239,978) and Australia (238,987). 

Furthermore, the latest Global Travel Trends 2023 report by ForwardKeys, a global air travel intelligence provider, highlights diverse travel patterns for the year. 

Urban tourism is gaining prominence, accompanied by a notable preference for “sun and beach destinations”, along with a resurgence of family and couple travel. 

The Asia Pacific region stands out with a swift recovery in the demand for luxurious travel experiences, indicating a willingness among consumers to invest in high-end travel despite concerns about the rising cost of living. 

Post-pandemic shifts in consumer behaviour are evident in a growing interest in nature, particularly rural tourism, as travellers seek open-air experiences and prioritise authenticity and sustainability. 

Concurrently, the Malaysia Tourism Quality Assurance (MyTQA) programme, introduced by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac), serves as a reference for travellers focusing on service quality. The programme classifies offerings into platinum, gold and silver ratings. 

Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park is the 1st and only theme park accredited with the MyTQA platinum rating (Source:

For example, Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park was recently accredited with the MyTQA platinum rating. As the first and only theme park to receive this recognition, it underscores a commitment to service quality. 

Since its opening in February 2022, Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park has welcomed approximately 1.56 million guests, reflecting the positive reception and adherence to quality standards. 

Further supporting this point, TripAdvisor listed Malaysia’s top attractions for 2023 based on user reviews. The rankings take into account the quality, quantity, recency, consistency of reviews and the number of page views over time. 

The Petronas Twin Towers secured the top spot for TripAdvisor’s list of Malaysia’s top attractions for 2023 (Source:

Among all attractions in Malaysia, the Petronas Twin Towers secured the top spot, followed by Escape Penang and Panorama Langkawi SkyCab. These three attractions fall into different categories, with the Petronas Twin Towers categorised under architectural buildings and Escape Penang and Panorama Langkawi SkyCab falling into amusement and theme parks, and trams respectively. 

People also voted for KLCC Park, Batu Caves, Legoland Malaysia, Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, The Huskitory and Pavilion KL. 

Panorama Langkawi SkyCab falls in the trams category of TripAdvisor’s list of Malaysia’s top attractions for 2023 (Source: Panorama Langkawi)

The list shows that the trend of tourism in Malaysia this year leans towards diverse attraction types, ranging from architectural landmarks to amusement parks and cultural sites. 

Furthermore, it also indicates that the trend is widespread geographically, as the attractions are situated in different regions. 

Last but not least, this year’s trend highlights an urban and natural blend showcasing a balance between city experiences and natural/cultural attractions. 

The tourism sector is witnessing a substantial and evolving presence of digital technology, particularly in e-commerce, says Ammar (Source:

Technology and Tourism 

In determining how the role of technology and digital platforms enhance tourist experience in the post-pandemic times, Tourism Malaysia DG Datuk Dr Ammar Abd Ghapar said the tourism sector is witnessing a substantial and evolving presence of digital technology, particularly in e-commerce. 

Contactless transactions facilitated by digital payment systems, user-friendly online booking and reservations, as well as digital check-ins, contribute to a seamless and secure experience for travellers. 

Mobile apps have also emerged as indispensable tools, empowering tourists to navigate and explore destinations independently. They offer digital tour guides, informative commentary and stories accessible through QR codes. 

Immersive experiences facilitated by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) also enhance the overall travel experience. 

Apart from that, the integration of data-driven insights is also instrumental in providing personalised offerings and targeted marketing campaigns. 

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies presents opportunities to revolutionise tourism services, addressing challenges such as business transformation and talent shortages. 

In this digital age, maintaining a robust online presence is imperative for the local travel industry. 

Social media content and influencer marketing serve as effective strategies to build and retain travellers’ trust. 

Collaborations with relevant business entities allow the industry to reach a broader audience, creating diverse packages for different market segments. 

Ultimately, engaging customers and delivering excellent online experiences are essential for thriving in this dynamic environment. 

Ammar said social media and user-generated content (UGC) wield considerable influence in inspiring and guiding tourists during their visit to Malaysia. 

Social media platforms are valuable sources of travel inspiration, becoming powerful tools for brand building, particularly for the iconic “Malaysia Truly Asia” and “Cuti-Cuti Malaysia” campaigns. 

“Tapping into UGC can add insight into the different stages of the consumer journey as it helps to drive new acquisition while retaining existing tourists through social recommendations and credibility,” Ammar told TMR. 

Tourism Malaysia, for example, uses UGC to portray the vibrancy of Malaysia as a preferred travel destination. 

This approach allows travellers to establish a personal connection, fostering inspiration and a desire to explore Malaysia. 

Consequently, organic online engagement is enhanced, creating a dynamic and inviting virtual space for potential tourists. 

Additionally, the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM) reported in its “Domestic Tourism Survey” that Malaysia’s domestic tourism has witnessed a substantial surge, with a record-breaking 54.5 million visitors during the second quarter of 2023 (2Q23), marking a significant 20% increase compared to the same period in the previous year. 

Quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) data reveals a 12.2% rise compared to 1Q23. 

Notably, domestic tourism expenditure for 2Q23 reached RM21.9 billion, reflecting a 23.9% year-on-year (YoY) increase and a quarterly rise of 13.9%. 

Domestic visitor arrivals surged to 171.6 million, a substantial 160.1% increase compared to the previous year’s 66 million. 

Domestic tourism receipts also soared, reaching RM64.1 billion, showcasing a remarkable 248.1% increase from the RM18.4 billion recorded in 2021, marking a positive rebound post-Covid-19. 

Shopping emerged as the primary contributor to total receipts, amounting to RM24.94 billion. 

Selangor dominated with RM3.85 billion, followed by Kuala Lumpur (KL) (RM3.71 billion) and Sarawak (RM2.33 billion). 

A breakdown of the social and demographic profile of domestic visitors reveals that the majority — hosted by the nine states of Johor, Melaka, Pahang, Penang, Perlis, Selangor, KL, Labuan and Putrajaya — fall within the income bracket of RM5,001 to RM10,000 per month. 

Wong says there is a growing inclination toward ‘staycations’, reflecting a trend where individuals opt for holidays within their home country (Pic courtesy of CoBNB)

Industry Players’ Strategies 

Bed and breakfast (BnB) operator and property management company, CoBNB Sdn Bhd CEO and co-founder Glenn Wong said the integration of contactless booking and check-in/ check-out through CoBNB’s kiosk ensures a seamless experience, featuring walk-in reservations, digital check-ins and secure payment options. 

This not only minimises physical contact but also provides 24/7 convenience, contributing significantly to an enhanced tourist experience. 

Moreover, the incorporation of AI chatbots within CoBNB’s customer service helpline establishes real-time communication channels between hosts and guests. 

Furthermore, CoBNB has successfully built a dedicated customer base over the years, attracting bookings both directly on its website and through Online Travel Agencies (OTA) like Airbnb and 

Notably, Wong said there is a growing inclination toward “staycations”, constituting a significant 80% of total bookings in CoBNB-managed properties, reflecting a trend where individuals opt for holidays within their home country. In terms of international tourists, the majority hail from Singapore, Indonesia and China. 

“We are anticipating a further increase in international tourist bookings especially from China and India on the back of the recent visa-free travel announcement for these countries by Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,” he said. 

Wong said streamlined and user-friendly online booking systems have revolutionised the reservation process, offering tourists a convenient means to plan and secure accommodations in advance. 

This innovation aligns with the growing trend of self-planned holidays, enabling customers to book through mobile devices and shifting away from traditional travel agency-based holiday planning. 

Additionally, CoBNB harnesses the power of data analytics to provide tailored recommendations to tourists based on their country of origin and the proximity of their booking location. 

This includes personalised suggestions for local attractions, dining options and cultural experiences, thereby enriching the overall tourist experience with a touch of local insight and customisation. 

In the context of the evolving travel landscape post-pandemic, Traveloka president Caesar Indra said the company noticed a shift in the way people approach trip planning — through a heightened emphasis on preparedness for the unexpected, evidenced by the increased uptake of travel insurance and flexible booking options. 

According to Indra, the contemporary travellers seek seamless, connected experiences and prefer managing their digital lives through a single app (Pic courtesy of Traveloka)

To cater to this demand for adaptability, Traveloka integrates in-app services that streamline refund and rescheduling processes, eliminating the need for time-consuming interactions with customer service. 

Modern travel platforms leverage advanced modelling and machine learning capabilities to personalise offers for users based on their booking history and preferences. 

Traveloka’s analysis indicates that travellers to Malaysia often seek family-friendly attractions, such as amusement parks, indoor activities and nature-related sights. 

Through the platform, users may receive tailored recommendations for accommodations or packages near popular destinations like Legoland or Genting Highlands. 

Indra said the advent of generative AI has revolutionised the industry, allowing Traveloka’s customer service teams to accurately answer travel queries by drawing from their extensive internal knowledge base. 

In addition, Traveloka recorded over 45 million monthly active users, while the app has been downloaded more than 127 million times and offers more than two million accommodation options in over 100 countries. 

According to Indra, the contemporary travellers, particularly among millennials and Generation Z, seek seamless, connected experiences and prefer managing their digital lives through a single app. This underscores Malaysia’s high smartphone penetration rate of 89% and the preference for a digital lifestyle. 

AI also further enhances the travel experience by analysing real-time schedule changes from airlines, promptly communicating this information to customers at scale. 

This augments the existing capabilities of travel platforms, offering end-to-end services, including planning, booking, payment, flight rescheduling and refunds — all conveniently accessible through a user-friendly interface. 

“We showcase destinations aligned with our customers’ interests and highlight cost-effective flights to inspire travel. This elevates the customer experience as the recommendations are based on their individual preferences,” Indra told TMR. 

Infrastructure Boost and Strategic Collaborations

The government is determined to make Malaysia the world’s top tourist destination by 2024, allocating a substantial RM350 million for tourism promotions and activities. 

PM Anwar, in his Budget 2024 speech, announced that the allocated funds include RM20 million for state governments to support the upkeep of key tourist destinations, such as Tasik Timah Tasoh in Perlis, Kenong Rimba Park in Pahang and Pantai Teluk Kemang in Negri Sembilan. 

Additionally, RM1.6 billion is directed towards revitalising the tourism sector. This includes RM600 million under the Penjana Tourism Financing and BPMB Rehabilitation Scheme, RM85 million for over 20,000 registered tourism operators and RM50 million for the maintenance of tourism infrastructure. 

The East Coast Economic Region (ECER) has also emerged as a success story, attracting RM10 billion in committed investments by September 2023. 

The strategic infrastructure initiatives by the federal government, such as the Central Spine Road, thematic industrial parks, Kemaman-Gebeng water supply project, Kuantan deepwater port extension and Sultan Ismail Petra Airport upgrade, have played a crucial role in enhancing the region’s appeal for private investments. 

The government’s commitment to funding essential infrastructure projects has not only fuelled private investment in ECER but has also contributed to Malaysia’s overall economic development. 

In the realm of new tourist attractions, the Splash Mania theme park in Gamuda Cove has become a crowd magnet, receiving 75,000 visitors monthly since its launch on Feb 6, 2023. 

Looking ahead, Tourism Malaysia has strategically partnered Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd (Perodua) to fortify the tourism industry. 

This collaboration, effective from 2024 to 2026, aligns Perodua’s focus on energy-efficient vehicles with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles. 

Anwar’s goal for 2024 includes attracting 26.1 million foreign tourists, with an anticipated revenue of RM97.6 billion from Visit Malaysia 2026. 

The Splash Mania theme park in Gamuda Cove receives 75,000 visitors monthly since its launch in February (Source:

Tourism Influencers 

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the Malaysian travel industry is experiencing a renaissance, propelled by travel content creators who use social media platforms to showcase the diverse and captivating tourism attractions across the country. 

Nur Aina Yusob, 28, a travel content creator widely recognised as @ainayb, noted a surge in interest in camping and outdoor tourism. She attributed it to people eager to break free from the confines of their homes post-pandemic. 

As a travel content creator, Nur Aina emphasised the importance of providing honest reviews to guide potential travellers and assist owners of tourism attractions in improving their services. 

Social media’s omnipresence is crucial, especially through influencer marketing, with tourists often drawn to destinations through engaging travel content. 

“Audiences tend to interact with influencers to create a bond, and the travel industry must ensure that influencers bring useful and beneficial content to encourage engagements,” she told TMR. 

Nur Aina observes a post-pandemic surge in camping and outdoor tourism interest, as people seek to break free from home confinement (Source: Nur Aina’s Instagram)

Sharing research and reviews on social media platforms simplifies decision-making for travellers. 

Nur Aina, although relatively new to the travel content creator industry, underscores the importance of knowing the target audience and aligning content with their interests. 

Specialising in hiking, waterfalls and mountains, her niche allows her to capture the beauty and majestic views of nature. 

Her followers, sharing her passion, seek advice and guidance when planning trips to places she has explored. 

“I will assist them in preparing physically and mentally, offering tips on hiking equipment and attire,” she explained. 

Nur Aina’s influence extends beyond traditional platforms; she leverages short content videos, such as Reels on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, ensuring her audience stays captivated and engaged with every piece of content. 

As the travel industry evolves, the seamless integration of technology, strategic collaborations and the influence of content creators converge to shape a dynamic and inviting virtual space for potential tourists, ensuring that Malaysia remains a vibrant and captivating destination for global travellers. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition