The Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada. (Pic courtesy of Forbes)

AT a time when the ringgit has plummeted against most major world currencies and when there are complaints about rising prices of essential items in the country, we find many Malaysians travelling overseas; by leaps and bounds for sure and to far-flung places that one would hardly even visit for leisure.

I read postings on the social media networks of friends travelling to such places last month. I saw photographs of a friend who backpacked in Inner Mongolia. Another was in South Korea in what was described as the coldest time to be in the country. I got news feeds of celebrities and politicians spending the year-end holiday season in Europe and the African continent.

Yes, you can find Malaysians everywhere. Even at the Sahara Desert near Merzouga in Morocco like we found out recently.

Two friends and I thought we were the only three Malaysians at the desert camp. We were on a sand dune waiting for the sunset when two women rode passed us on camels. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Malaysia”, they answered in unison. And we were equally surprised when we found out that they were also from Johor Baru.

Earlier in Chefchaouen, the little town famous for being the “blue pearl of Morocco” (most of the hilltop buildings are painted blue), we heard a group of Malaysians speaking in Malay.

Similarly in Spain, we could hear Malay being spoken when we visited The Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada and the Mezquita Cathedral de Cordoba.

On most occasions, we exchanged “Assalamualaikum” whenever we crossed patha with people who we thought were Malaysians. We could confirm their identities from their replies.

And you cannot avoid bumping into Malaysians, especially Malays, in Paris and London. It has become a second home for many. Like a friend said, “baling batu, kena Melayu (throw a stone and it will hit a Malay)”.

TravelDailyNews International, a daily travel and tourism news portal for the international travel trade market, said globalisation and a growing trend in travelling have increased the number of people visiting foreign countries each year.

In a report last year, the news portal said mainland Chinese topped the list on outbound tourism, spending US$289.4 billion on their holidays and trips abroad. This is based on data from the World Travel and Tourism Council and analysed by Americans came in second with US$151.4 billion, Germans (US$86.8 billion), the British (US$72.8 billion) and French (US$47.8 billion).

Meanwhile, the top five countries which received the most tourism spending were the US (US$212.3 billion), China (US$119.7 billion), Spain (US$65.7 billion), Thailand (US$53.7 billion) and France (US$46.8 billion). The news portal said Thailand broke the pattern — the Thais spent US$8.4 billion on outbound tourism, but receive a healthy US$53.7 billion into their economy from travellers; almost 6.5 times more than what they spent and making US$45.3 billion in profit.

There is no available data for Malaysia but a Mastercard report showed that an estimated 11.9 million international outbound trips from Malaysia were recorded in 2016 and the number is forecast to grow by an average of 3.5 per cent annually to 14.2 million trips by 2021. It ranked Malaysia sixth highest among emerging markets.

In 2015, there were 11.1 million outbound trips from Malaysia, and the following year it rose to 11.9 million (estimated). Mastercard predicted that Malaysia would record the highest travel ratio in outbound travel in relation to the total number of households with 198.7 per cent by 2021 from 178.4 per cent in 2016.

About 46.1 per cent of outbound trips are by Malaysian households earning above US$30,000 per annum in 2016, an income range that accounts for 24.4 per cent of all households. This put the concentration ratio at 1.9, second lowest among higher income households of emerging markets after Thailand at 1.8.

Vacation is definitely one of Malaysians’ favourite past times. Some countries are already reporting a record number of Malaysian tourists visiting their shores. We see thousands of Malaysians going to travel fairs in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere to hunt for affordable packages.

Furthermore, Malaysians can travel visa-free to 160 countries and territories in the world. But then, having to apply for a visa is not a strong enough deterrent for Malaysians to stay away from the particular country.

After our own experience meeting Malaysians at the Sahara Desert, we are pretty sure that Malaysians are all over the world. Heck, we even had a Malaysian in space before.

The writer is NST associate editor, Digital & Features

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