‘Step up or lose out to other nations’: M’sian tourism players call for more measures as countries vie for tourists

The policy to exempt visas for China and India nationals to Malaysia was implemented on December 1 last year.


Tourists enjoying the sights of Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: THE STAR

January 25, 2024

PETALING JAYA – With neighbouring countries snapping at our heels, tourism players want the stakeholders in the industry to further step up or lose out, even as the country registered a 40% increase in arrivals following the recent visa-free move.

The policy to exempt visas for China and India nationals to Malaysia was implemented on Dec 1 last year.

Malaysian Tourism Federation president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said Tourism Malaysia must work in high gear as neighbouring countries have been aggressively promoting their tourism programmes.

“Malaysia has seen a good increase of between 30% and 40% in Chinese and Indian visitors following the visa-free announcement.

“But it’s not enough because our neighbours are even more aggressive in pulling international tourists with promotions and ease of travel.

“Malaysian tourism must move in high gear to keep up or lose out,” he said in an interview yesterday.

For instance, Tan said many airports and points of entry, especially those bordering Singapore and Thailand, need a facelift.

“These are the first impressions that visitors get right after arriving in Malaysia and we ought to give these facilities the best upkeep,” he said.

Next is to have more immigration counters open and functioning, especially during peak hours with multiple flight arrivals.

“The counters should be on full force to clear as many people in the shortest time possible without compromising the screening process.

“This is another crucial first impression of Malaysia.”

Tan noted that the China tourist market depends on many factors, such as flight connectivity, market promotions, seamless travel experience, tourist safety, foreign currency exchange rate, package pricing, China economy and visa-free policies.

“The visa-free policies of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia have undeniably boosted tourist arrivals in this region.

“Interestingly, Thailand is permanently waving visa requirements for China tourists come March.

“We need to do more and catch up,” he added.

While more arrivals of independent travellers and small groups are expected during the upcoming Chinese New Year period, Tan said the authorities should monitor and control the unlicensed operators and accommodation providers.

Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association president Paul Paw has called for more direct flights between Malaysia and China as he expected a 15% increase in Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia during the festive season thanks to the visa-free policy.

“The number of direct flights has not yet returned to the 2019 levels. So the tourist numbers may not meet the desired results,” he said.

Malaysia Inbound Chinese Association president Datuk Dr Angie Ng said there could be a shortage of experienced tour guides and tour buses.

“We are currently persuading experienced tour guides to return to the industry and getting more tour buses to come in,” she said.

Ng said the number of Chinese tourists is expected to increase by 10% between January and February.

“Last December alone, our members received more than 1,000 tours,” she revealed.

She estimated that 4,000 tour groups, averaging 16 to 30 people each, will visit Malaysia these two months.

“But most groups will tend to be smaller with the change in travel patterns,” she said.

Malaysian Indian Tour and Travel Association former president Datuk K. Thangavelu said the country should offer tourism products and services that capture the different tour groups as more visitors aged between 25 and 50 are keen to visit Malaysia.

“Their travel pattern suggests they prefer urban destinations to rural ones.

“Younger Indians are showing a growing interest in travelling, visiting family members and exploring the country,” he added.

In 2019, more than three million Chinese tourists visited Malaysia, accounting for nearly 12% of the international tourist arrivals and generating 17.8% of the country’s tourism revenue.

According to immigration statistics, Malaysia received more than 26 million foreigners in 2023, with the most coming from Singapore (12.6 million), Indonesia (3.1 million), Thailand (2.07 million), China (1.4 million), Brunei (904,841) and India (78,532).

Recently, Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing announced that China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines will gradually launch daily flights from Shanghai Pudong Airport to new destinations in Malaysia in the second half of this year.

He also said that since the Malaysian government implemented visa exemption for Chinese tourists, their number has gone up by 45%.

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