Is Malaysia tourist-friendly?

IF domestic and foreign visitors were asked whether Malaysians are friendly, the answer would be a resounding yes as we are by nature friendly, although those lacking in courtesy may appear rude, and residents in condominiums do not welcome rowdy guests staying there temporarily.

When it comes to the ruling government, visitors who benefited from policies would give the authorities the thumbs up, while thumbs down will be given by those who were adversely affected and would choose other places for their holidays, businesses, investments, or education.

For example, Kelantan would be avoided by most visitors, be they domestic or foreign, as even men wearing shorts could be hauled up and summoned by the local authority.

If not conducting training, I wear shorts everywhere I go and will continue to do so, no thanks to global warming.

Nationals from 163 countries or jurisdictions rate Malaysia as tourist-friendly, starting with those from three nations that are granted visa-free entry to our country for a period of 14 days, and even more so for another 94 countries that could enter visa-free and stay up to 30 days.

To top it all, a group of 66 countries takes the cake. They are granted visa-free entry to Malaysia for 90 days!

But we hardly receive any tourists or investments from many of them, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Lebanon, Yemen, and Peru.

(Pic credit: The Star)

Unfortunately, nationals from China, India and Bangladesh must obtain visas before they can enter Malaysia, although they can apply for an electronic visa (e-VISA) or Visa On Arrival (VOA) at most of our international airports if they passed through third countries.

In 2019, these three countries were among the top 15 that contributed the greatest number of foreign tourists to Malaysia.

Combined, their numbers exceeded four million. If international travel were to return to the 2010s level, their numbers could double if granted visa-free entry.

Understandably, visa policies are decided based on reciprocal arrangements but that should not stop us from first granting visa-free entry to citizens from China, India and Bangladesh.

We do not have to wait until their governments extend the same courtesy to Malaysians.

In this way, we have more to gain as Malaysia’s population is only 30.4 million, excluding non-citizens.

Whereas the total number of people in India, China and Bangladesh is three billion or 38% of the world’s population and their per capita incomes are rising fast.

We should discard antiquated fears that people from these countries would come to Malaysia in droves and settle for economic pursuits as the gap has been narrowed and even non-existent in some areas as many are able to find similar if not better opportunities in their home countries.

(Pic credit: FMT)

But opposition politicians will continue to harp on the Immigration Department’s record that a total of 7,177,043 China nationals entered Malaysia between 2018 and 2021 but only 5,954,765 have left and deduced that the difference of 1,222,280 must still be in the country.

However, it is likely that these nationals have covertly left Malaysia, including those who have overstayed, by bribing immigration officials and therefore there are no records of them exiting.

They simply left because their businesses or job opportunities evaporated during the lockdowns,

Prior to the pandemic, China nationals staying in Malaysia were highly visible with many of them operating businesses such as restaurants and foot reflexology centres, and many of them bought large amounts of meats and vegetables at wet markets, driving up prices.

However, most local Chinese are more comfortable with fellow Malaysians of any race, as China nationals tend to speak too loudly which we are not accustomed to.

As such, it is easy to notice the presence of China nationals wherever they are, and their numbers have dwindled.

But for the growth of our economy, we need many more foreign tourists and investments and there is no better way than granting visa-free entry for nationals from China, India and Bangladesh, starting with a 14-day visa-free entry as already granted to Iran, Libya and Macao.

Later, it can be extended to 30 days as granted to 94 countries that are too numerous to mention including those that most Malaysians would not know where they are such as Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Belize and Benin.

This is certainly better than making calls repeatedly by several tourism associations for VOA to be introduced for tourists travelling directly to Malaysia from their home countries in China or India, and not limited to those coming from a third country.

(Pic credit: Bernama)

Foreigners enjoying visa-free facilities or granted visas do not mean that could automatically pass through our border checkpoints as immigration officers could still bar those that arouse suspicion or with information that they are undesirable.

Therefore, the final control rests on our immigration officers and our checkpoints are as tight as the integrity of our immigration officers.

Our visa policy will determine how friendly our nation is as perceived by foreigners, and those who arrive will find Malaysians truly friendly.

But just like popular tourist destinations everywhere, there are scammers preying on visitors.

They could be photographers lurking in the shadows of the Petronas Twin Towers or foreigners acting as guides to offer free sightseeing, but tourists will be ripped off during shopping stops.

The menace could be overcome if the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture works closely with various tourist guide associations and the Department of Immigration.

Foreigners will stop their antics after being questioned and having their details recorded by an immigration officer. – Aug 28, 2023


YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer, master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel & Tours Enhancement Course. He is also a tourism and transport industry consultant and writer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main pic credit: The Star

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