Letter to Editor
IN 2014, Malaysia received a record high of 27.44 million tourist arrivals. The number could have exceeded 30 million had it not for an airplane that disappeared after departing from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and our refusal to grant visa-free entry to citizens from key Asian countries.
In 2014, Thailand received 24.81 million tourist arrivals, but the number shot up to 29.92 million in 2015, 32.53 million in 2016, 35.59 million in 2017, 38.18 million in 2018, and 39.92 million in 2019.
From 2015 to 2019, arrivals to Malaysia dropped to 25.72 million, 26.76 million, 25.95 million, 25.83 million, and 26.10 million respectively, averaging 26 million per year. In contrast, Thailand received an average of 35.2 million arrivals annually during the same five-year period.
In 2019, 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand and spent 544 billion baht (RM70 bil). In the same year, 3.1 million Chinese tourists came to Malaysia and spent RM15.32 bil. Also in 2019, 155 million Mainland Chinese spent US$255 bil (RM1.2 tril) overseas.
While countries around the world have their doors opened wide to welcome Chinese tourists, ours were half-closed by requiring Chinese nationals to obtain visas, although citizens from 163 other countries could enter Malaysia visa-free and stay for up to 14, 30, or even 90 days!
The writing was on the wall and prompted the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) to issue a press statement in December 2014 with the heading “MATTA Calls on Home Ministry to Stop Stereotyping China Tourists”, which was reported by the local media.
MATTA had called on the government to grant visa-free entry to citizens of China and allow them to stay for up to 14 days to boost tourist arrivals.
It fell on deaf ears and our lackadaisical attitude allowed Thailand to leapfrog us in tourist arrivals, leaving us trailing far behind.
In recent years, I have written numerous articles that citizens from China, India and Bangladesh be granted visa-free entry to Malaysia, as each of these populous countries has a huge middle class keen to travel and they offer the biggest potential in tourist arrivals to our country.
My articles included “Sound visa policy accelerates economic recovery” and “Why deny Chinese nationals 14-day visa entry?”, both published in August 2022; “Tourist arrivals likely to reach 10 million” in December 2022; and “Is Malaysia tourist-friendly?” in August 2023.
On September 25, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was at Bangkok’s international airport to hand out gifts and posed for pictures as his tourism minister and other VIPs greeted about 300 travellers from Shanghai. The event was widely covered by the international media.
Videos showed arriving passengers were entertained by Thai traditional dancers and drummers. It was the first day of a new five-month visa-free entry programme and the Thai government is pulling out all the stops in boosting tourist arrivals and expenditures to revitalise the economy.
Thailand aims to draw 28 million tourists and generate 1.4 trillion baht (RM 180.2 billion) this year. In 2019, our northern neighbour attracted 40 million tourist arrivals and earned 1.9 trillion baht (RM244.6 billion). In 2019, we received only 26.1 million arrivals and RM89.4 billion.
National Tourism Policy 2020 – 2030
Are we going to remain passively as bystanders or bold enough to take the bull by the horns? Are we going to remain as world champions in government planning but last in its execution? Are we content to take a back seat while Thailand is being proactive to stay far in front of us?
One of the four strategic actions to enhance demand sophistication under the National Tourism Policy is to remove impediments to high-value tourism.
In 2019, Chinese tourists were the fourth biggest spenders in Malaysia per capita and moved to third in the first half of this year.
One of the four strategic actions to strengthen governance capacity is reinforcing high-level coordination to monitor the implementation of the National Tourism Policy 2020-2030 through dialogues between the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (MOTAC) with other ministries.
The latest development in Thailand in relaxing visa requirements should give MOTAC further impetus to engage with the Home Ministry once again on granting visa-free entry for citizens from China, India and Bangladesh for up to 14 days stay.
It can start off with a six-month trial period. If implemented next January, Malaysia will be starting 2024 with a bang and we will receive no less than 24 million arrivals for next year, up from 18 million expected this year.
Not only that, but arrivals will also climb steadily to 30 million in 2025, 36 million in 2026, and 42 million in 2027 and this is where it is close to saturation point, realising our full potential. If not, arrival figures will continue to be around 26 million annually as in pre-pandemic years.
At the very least, we must keep pace with Thailand’s tourist arrivals. But more importantly, we should not miss the immense benefits that a great number of foreign tourists bring as large numbers of our people could be gainfully employed and the expenditures boosting our economy. – Sept 29, 2023
YS Chan is master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel & Tours Enhancement Course as well as Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a transport and training consultant and writer.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Shutterstock