Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced on Sunday that effective December 1, visitors from China, India and several other countries will be able to visit Malaysia visa-free for 30 days.
Meanwhile, China announced two days ago that it would extend 15-day visa exemption facility to Malaysia, the only Asian country in Beijing’s trial list.
2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China, and the introduction of visa-free travels between the two countries has been a significant historical event that is poised to close the distance between the people of both countries.
Back in the 1970s and early 80s, it wasn’t easy for Chinese nationals to travel out of their country, while only Malaysians above the age of 50 were allowed to travel to the communist country to visit their families and relatives. Back then China was like a very remote country inaccessible to many!
Time has since changed. Today, people from both Malaysia and China can freely visit each other’s countries, and the introduction of visa exemption facility is akin to a big gift to the people of both countries from their governments, as we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship.
Extending 30-day visa-free entry facility to visitors from China and India will suddenly add 2.8 billion (36% of the global population) potential visa-free visitors to our country, statistically speaking.
With that, the number of countries worldwide enjoying visa-exemption facility to Malaysia will breach the 150-mark, while Malaysians can enjoy visa-free travels to a total of 182 countries, making our passports the 12th most powerful globally.
Although such an enviable ranking does not actually reflect the country’s strength, at least it shows that the Malaysian government and people are seen as peace-loving and friendly by an overwhelming majority of countries worldwide.
As such, Malaysia should also make a perfect tourist destinations for globe-trotters.
Tourism and tourism-related industry is one of the three major pillars of the Malaysian economy, after electronics and oil & gas.
During its heyday in 2019, this sector employed over 3.52 million people (full-time and part-time), or about 23% of the country’s workforce.
Some 26.1 million tourists brought in RM85.1 billion in tourist tourism receipts, contributing 6% to the country’s GDP.
In 2019, more than three million (12% of total) Chinese nationals visited Malaysia, generating 17.8% of total tourist revenue.
No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic dealt a severe blow on global tourism. Although the number of Chinese tourists numbered only 210,000 last year, that country was still one of the largest groups of foreign visitors to Malaysia.
While the number of foreign tourists this year is below expectation, the government has still revised the target upward from 16 to 18 million.
Based on the 2019 statistics, Malaysia’s largest sources of tourists are Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, China, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Australia and the United Kingdom.
International tourists long for a safe, free, casual, diverse and value-for-money destination. Do we have what it takes to bring them to our shores?
In view of this, it is essential that the government target these groups of foreign tourists, promoting our tourists products and services to cater to the needs of these people.
Indeed, tourists long for a safe, free, casual, diverse and value-for-money destination. Malaysia will not be their one and only choice, as we are facing a multitude of strong regional competitors vying for the lucrative tourist market.
A country’s image will weigh heavily on the tourist industry. This is what we really need to be very cautious about.
Negative publicity from the film No More Bets, along with the recent shooting at an upmarket Bangkok mall, have hurt the Thai tourist industry, triggering tremendous concern among international tourists, while affecting also other Southeast Asian destinations such as Malaysia.
During the October “Golden Week” peak travel season this year, there was an obvious absence of the influx of Chinese tourists here, especially in Langkawi which has been plagued by controversies. Sabah, on the other hand, has become increasingly popular, with 5-star hotel rooms fast sold out.
We simply cannot rely wholly on Sabah, the sun and beaches of Semporna, idyllic islands and scuba-diving hot spots to lure tourists. Semporna is very well known among tourists from Greater China, even more so than Malaysia!. Why? Is it because the East Malaysian state is relatively more liberal and tourist-friendly?
Talking about islands and beaches, we are not any inferior to Phuket or Bali. The difference is, these destinations also offer exciting night life and diverse cultures while we have way too many restrictions that easily turn people away.
If with the ringgit in such a pathetic state and yet we are still unable to get the tourists coming, it is high time we seriously look into the problem.
A 2019 UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) report showed that that 40% of all international tourists flocked into just 10 countries, half of which in Europe. The top-ranked France drew a total of 89 million tourist arrivals, followed by Spain (83 million), with Italy (62 million), Germany (39 million) and the UK (36 million) at fifth, eighth and tenth positions respectively.
Statistics showed that international tourist arrivals in Europe topped 710 million in 2018, about 51% of the global total of 1.4 billion!
The number of international tourists in individual Southeast Asian countries if far behind. Sadly, not many people know about Malaysia even though we are right between two of the region’s most well-known tourist destinations, Thailand and Singapore. Some even think we are part of the Indonesian archipelago!
Looks like our tourist minister will have to work very much harder to sell Malaysia to the world!