BEIJING - The controversy surrounding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has prompted many Chinese tourists, who once saw Malaysia as an attractive holiday destination, to look elsewhere, travel agents said on Tuesday.
Eleven Chinese travel agents told Reuters that bookings between China and Malaysia had fallen severely, and that many people have cancelled their trips, amid anger at the perceived lack of information provided by the Malaysian government to passengers' families.
"We used to have 30 to 40 customers a month for group tours to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Now there is no one asking about this route or booking," a travel agent surnamed Chen told Reuters by telephone.
"Tourists don't even consider going there. Many also have a negative impression of the country now," said Chen with Comfort Travel, in the southern city of Guangzhou, which focuses heavily on Southeast Asia tours.
In Beijing, angry relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane protested on Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy, demanding an explanation from the airline and accusing the government in Kuala Lumpur of "delays and deception".
Flight MH370, with 239 people on board, vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after take-off on March 8 on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Most of the passengers were Chinese.
"The Malaysian government deliberately delayed publicising real information about the flight. We should punish this completely irresponsible attitude and boycott Malaysian tourism," said a user of Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
"Originally I was considering travelling in Malaysia this year, now I think their country is so disgusting," wrote another microblogger. "They lied to everyone for half a month."
The slowdown in Chinese travel could hurt Malaysia's goal of boosting tourism, though the impact on the economy may be limited. Chinese tourist arrivals account for about 12 per cent of Malaysia's total tourists and 0.4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.
Malaysia has targeted 28 million tourists this year and 76 billion ringgit ($23 billion) in receipts.
Some Chinese travel agencies have cancelled group trips to Malaysia and stopped promoting cut-price tickets for fear of angering customers.
"The Malaysia Airlines incident involves national sentiment. If we go against the trend now, I'm afraid it will be provocative," said a travel agent surnamed Xu with another firm.
According to an online poll on Sina's news website, 77.5 per cent of more than 21,000 participants said the MH370 furore would influence their decision on travelling in Malaysia.
Malaysian Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz said on Monday that "Visit Malaysia Year" roadshows in China would be halted until the MH370 case is closed.