Malaysia expects to lose 30,000 Chinese tourists as cancellations surge

Malaysia expects to lose 30,000 Chinese tourists as cancellations surge

MALAYSIA - Malaysia expects at least 30,000 tourists from China to cancel their trips here this year in the wake of the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

Calling the sudden spike in cancellations "unprecedented", the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents fears that the travel and related industries could lose up to RM120 million (S$46.3 million) due to the outrage in China over events surrounding Flight MH370. "We have to accept the reality of the situation," said Datuk Khalid Harun, a spokesman for the association, to The Straits Times yesterday. "The whole of China is in mourning."

Two-thirds of the 227 passengers on Flight MH370 bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur were from China. Contradictory statements by the Malaysian authorities who briefed affected families at the start of the hunt for the plane prompted many Chinese citizens to accuse the Malaysian government of hiding information. Some held a street protest at the Malaysian embassy on March 16.

"I have been made to understand that as many as 30,000 tourists from China have cancelled their holiday packages to Malaysia until 2015," Malaysia's Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamad Nazri Aziz, was quoted as saying by The Star On-line yesterday.

The government had no plans to counter the cancellations as finding the cause of the jet's disappearance is paramount now, he said. "I don't think we need to take any measures for now... In the culture and traditions of the Chinese people, closure is important for them to continue living."

The Malaysian government has cancelled some Visit Malaysia Year 2014 events out of respect for the families of the missing passengers and crew members.

In the past month, the country's image has taken a beating. Besides the disappearance of MH370, Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipino worker Marcy Darawan, 40, were kidnapped from a Sabah resort. Kidnappers have demanded RM36.4 million in ransom, Malaysia's Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said yesterday.

China ranks third in the number of travellers to Malaysia, behind Singapore and Indonesia.

lestkong@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.

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