1:04pm 10/12/2023
Make visa exemption work!
By:Lee San
Although getting a Canadian visa could be a tough mission, we were astonished to find over 200 automated immigration clearance counters upon arrival at Vancouver’s airport. All you need is to scan your passport and face, and answer a few questions, you should be able to pass through in just 45 seconds. Indeed, they are using an AI-enabled automated immigration clearance system instead of the conventional manned counters. Perhaps the immigration department at Malaysia’s airports should buck up a bit!

Although the good news comes a little too unexpected, the feeling is great and thrilling. I was talking about the visa exemption facility extended to visitors from China and India.

Most people may not feel excited about this visa exemption facility, and may not understand its significance.

However, if you plan to travel overseas, you will appreciate the value of such a facility allowing you to go whenever you wish without having to spend time and money applying for a visa. Right?

Don’t underestimate the Malaysian passport which is among the ten most powerful passports in the whole world, with visa exemption to 123 countries, plus 47 others where visa-on-arrival is available! As if that’s not enough, more visa-free countries will join the list soon. The more the better. Isn’t it so?

From the perspectives of national security, extending the visa exemption facility to visitors from China and India has been an unprecedented open-minded move by the Malaysian government, indeed a major historical event since diplomatic relationships were established between Malaysia and these two Asian giants.

I believe the authorities must have given this thoughtful consideration to take such a “bold” first step, and such an effort should be commended.

Most importantly, the visa exemption facility for Chinese and Indian tourists will deepen our cordial relationships with these two countries, promoting mutual visits as well as trade and investment, in addition to winning international applause and admiration for our country and making us a veritable role model for the world!

I once mentioned on Sin Chew Daily’s Sunday column that visa exemption is not just as simple as on/off, as the authorities can come up with whatsoever reasons or excuses either to open up or shut out. What really matters is how the administrators look at this issue from the macroscopic point of view!

Now that this facility has become a reality, whatever problem that comes next will no longer be a big issue! The thing is, while we celebrate this farsighted government decision, we will nonetheless feel a little worried.

Are our border post personnel ready for the influx of tourists from these countries? Are our inbound tour operators going to offer drastic price cuts to woo group tourists? Will our inbound tour guides and coach drivers ready to lift their service quality? Or are we just adopting the usual easy-go-lucky attitude?

To be honest, our tour operators have very divergent experiences with the service quality of personnel at border posts and sightseeing destinations in the many countries they have visited over the years. Of course, there is no perfect tourist paradise anywhere under the sun!

Moreover, even the many different government departments in a country can have very different levels of performance, while some may not dutifully carry out the instructions from the top.

Could there be grumbling and frustration in their midst following the implementation of such a major visa policy by the government? Who knows some of them may just try to make life a little more miserable for the visitors in a display of vain authority?

In the end, the first impression we give to our guests could very much be like this: never-ending queues in front of immigration counters, arrogant and unfriendly officials who  are downright disgusting.

What if their tour guides and drivers, the so-called frontline personnel, are equally mediocre?

That said, we must still believe that everything will turn out to be a good thing, and no matter how horrible it might appear, there is always room for improvement!

As a matter of fact, we have to admit that these people’s jobs are by no means easy, and what we can do is to be a little more understanding while mutually supervising in an attempt to improve our service delivery.

As for the tourism ministry, its KPI is to make sure our foreign guests feel welcome and enjoy themselves in this country, as they will bring in the much-needed tourist revenue to fatten the national coffers besides creating job opportunities for Malaysians and lift the overall national economy.

Where this is concerned, minister Tiong King Sing’s performance is beyond doubt. Most importantly, the tourism ministry must make sure that all visitors to this country will feel at home and have a truly enjoyable and value-for-money holiday here, so that they will come back again in near future.

But this also poses a major problem for our minister, who might think: My job is to get the tourists coming and having a good time here. But look at the overall ambience and environment around us… I think this job is not going to be easy at all!

Anyway, we can always start from the smallest details. Look! We are all on the same starting line, and as long as we give our best shot together with our Malaysian enthusiasm and hospitality, or what they call in Japanese, omotenashi, I’m quite sure our foreign guests will be able to feel the unique Malaysian diversity and colours!

Around the world, farsighted governments and their civil service teams would start planning and preparing ahead of time during the pandemic lockdown, fully opening up when the time is right in order to welcome a sudden influx of international tourists and big spenders.

Compared to them, we appear to have acted a little too sluggishly, with key government departments adopting a lackadaisical attitude.

That said, we should still be thankful that the government has taken the decisive step of extending the visa exemption facility to visitors from some of our biggest sources of tourists despite a slow start. Hopefully we can still turn the tide around!

P/S: This article was written in the city of Yellowknife in Canada. It’s said that the Northern Hemisphere will experience the most intense occurrence of Aurora in 50 years this winter.

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has travelled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


Lee San
Apple Vacations


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