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The incredible recovery of tourism in Malaysia

Like many countries around the world, Malaysia was hit hard by the global pandemic. In 2018 the country received 25.83 million tourist arrivals. The following year, arrivals increased to 26.10 million, taking in a record 86.10 RM billion. But then, the pandemic hit. Tourist arrivals plummeted to 4.33 million in 2021 and then to a paltry 130,000 in 2021. Although Malaysia re-opened its country’s borders in April 2022, visiting Malaysia wasn’t the same as before.

The experience was, to put it mildly, a shadow of its former self. Kuala Lumpur, the capital, had lost its hustle and bustle. Bukit Bintang didn’t have its usual energy. Petaling Street was devoid of the crowds that make it so special. And the free GoKL city buses that took people round the capital were conspicuously vacant. Even the Petronas Towers had little buzz at night with only a few people taking selfies of the sky-high towers.

Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Jalan Alor, a street food tourist hotspot, in 2022
Kuala Lumpur Metro, Bukit Bintang
Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang metro station in 2022

Since then things have improved dramatically. The streets of Kuala Lumpur have regained their energy. Tourists can be seen exploring the city, and cafes, restaurants and malls are full of people. Malaysia is targeting 16.1 million international tourist arrivals for 2023, still a way off from its peak years in the late 2010s, but enough to significantly change the vibe of its big cities.

Malaysia’s boost in tourism can be attributed to various factors. Many travellers would have been writing up their bucket lists, eager to check out the country they may have planned to visit during Visit Malaysia Year 2020. The low cost of accommodation and food, along with a pleasant climate and a good base from which to visit other countries in Southeast Asia has made Malaysia an attractive place to visit.

Pavilion Mall, Kuala Lumpur in 2022
Pavilion Mall in 2022
Merdeka 118, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Merdeka 118, the second tallest building in the world, opened in July 2023.
Merdeka 118, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
View of Merdeka 118 from the Central Market, Kuala Lumpur
Cafés near Chinatown / Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Busy cafés near Petaling Street
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