With the Ringgit at new lows, the political scene in shambles and the haze choking away any remaining optimism, it's difficult to be chipper about Malaysian prospects right now. But guess what, maybe we Malaysians are being too hard on ourselves. The international travel community seems to think we're doing just fine.
According to Mastercard, which has some pretty authoritative figures, Kuala Lumpur is the world's eighth most popular destination. Yup, eighth, not eightieth - that's our football team. Actually no, our football team is now 171st in the world. Jesus.
I digress. So yeah, KL is just behind New York and ahead of supposedly superior travel destinations such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Barcelona, Shanghai and just about any major "more famous" city Malaysians can think of. And it's no fluke either. Kuala Lumpur has consistently ranked in the Global Top Ten for the past several years, and the year-on-year growth rates are amongst the best within the Top Ten, so it's not like we're dropping out anytime soon.
Hmm, yes, the smarty pants in you is probably wondering if all this is due to Air Asia turning KL into a transit hub for Southeast Asian air travel. Well, I'm sure that's a contributing factor; BUT these figures are actually for OVERNIGHT arrivals, meaning visitors have to spend at least one night in the city, not just a two-hour transit. And the spending patterns support this too - KL also ranks 8th in the world in terms of money spent per tourist. We rank higher than Tokyo, Madrid, Rome etc in this crucial area.
Unbelievable right? Well read the Mastercard report here and convince yourself. Yeah, it drew a few "this can't be's" and "huh, really's" from me too. But the take away message is this: Malaysia is a really nice place to be in. Even if sometimes we don't think so ourselves.
Relax lah. Cuti cuti Malaysia sikit.
Note: Although these are "2015" figures, I think what Mastercard actually means is 2015 rankings based on 2014 figures. So yes, the impact of the haze and other misfortunes in 2015 haven't quite taken effect, but I don't think the overall rankings will be affected that much even if they were factored in.