CHINESE tourists have been busy packing their sun block lotions and designer shades with the eight-day Golden Week holiday. This annual holiday began on Sept 29 which coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day in China.
But how many have made Malaysia their destination? While there has been a steady flow of tourist from China with an expected increase during this Golden Week holiday, the numbers remain far below pre-pandemic levels, according to Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association deputy president Mint Leong.
With Malaysia facing stiff competition with other destinations, Leong has urged decision makers to implement policies that will improve the country’s competitiveness as a destination such as visa-on-arrival and longer visa periods for the convenience of travellers seeking extensive post-pandemic experiences.
So what do we have? After the aborted Visit Malaysia campaign due to the pandemic, Chinese nationals have had little incentive to visit these shores. Lest it is forgotten, there is still a lot of negative sentiments among Chinese nationals after the Beijing-bound MH370 went missing.
Add to that the necessity to apply for visas even for short stays, Malaysia lags far behind its neighbours, most pertinently Thailand in wooing tourists from China.
More damaging are the various negative social media posts by Chinese national on their Malaysian sojourn has further dampened enthusiasm in this key market.
In Feb this year, a China national alleged on TikTok that a Malaysian cop demanded a bribe after she was unable to produce her passport. Then there is the infamous incident requiring ministerial intervention to “rescue” a China visitor from alleged unscrupulous immigration officers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
A quick search online will also show plenty of grouses, especially regarding the long queues to clear immigration at KLIA.
What is the government doing to revive an industry that was particularly hard hit by the pandemic? According to the Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, tourism contributed over RM86 bil in revenue in 2019, making it a vital component of the nation’s economy.
Instead of politicians bickering over ‘shorts and booze’ in Langkawi, can there instead be more proactive measures to lure these China tourists to the island? Take a lead from the Thai Prime Minister who personally greeted arrivals at Bangkok airport when launching a visit Thailand campaign earlier this year.
Gimmicky as it may seem to some, such promo stunts generate lots of positive publicity on social media. The results are evident as over 36 million tourists visited Thailand last year while Malaysia lagged far behind with an estimated 25 million.
Why is there such a lackadaisical attitude in promoting Malaysia in this most lucrative of markets? Is the unity government not interested in reviving the economy?
The local tourist industry has been crying out for assistance since the pandemic hit. It is an industry that helps countless Malaysians put food on the table – from the cab driver to restaurant owners as well as affecting businesses both small and large.
For starters, the suggestion on visa requirements should be seriously considered. Also, given that Malaysian politicians make great use of cybertroopers to control the narrative, maybe it is high time these keyboard warriors are put to better use by getting them to spread positive messages about Malaysia as a tourist haven. – Oct 3, 2023
Main pic credit: Bernama