KUALA LUMPUR - The number of Malaysia-bound tourists from China and Taiwan has dipped significantly following the two Malaysia Airlines (MAS) incidents and the abduction of tourists - including a Chinese national - from Sabah by brigands from the Philippines, Malaysia's parliament was told on Wednesday.
Tourism minister Nazri Aziz, in a written reply to a Barisan Nasional coalition backbencher, said the number of Chinese tourists between January and July this year fell 11.8 per cent - from more than a million in 2013 to 997,370.
The number of Taiwanese visitors to the country dropped 2.9 per cent over the same period to 168,962, he said in his reply to lawmaker Jumat Idris, who had asked how the twin MAS tragedies had affected the tourism industry and what was being done about it.
On March 8, the carrier's Flight MH370 went missing en route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Believed to have ended its flight over the south Indian Ocean, it remains missing.
Four months later, Flight MH17 crashed over a rebel-controlled area in eastern Ukraine, presumably hit by a missile, also leaving no survivors.
Between these aviation tragedies and the Sabah police force's seeming helplessness against armed intrusions by pirates who kidnap tourists and demand ransoms, Malaysian tourism has been dealt a black eye.
MAS has also been reduced to a financial wreck, forced to slash fares to keep its flights full.
The airline is in the final stages of a sweeping restructuring which will cost it thousands of jobs and a delisting from the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange.
The waning of Chinese arrivals to Malaysia has, however, happened elsewhere in South-east Asia as well.
The three most-visited countries in the region for the Chinese have been Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia - in that order.
After barrelling growth over the past five years, their arrival numbers to all three destinations have declined significantly, though for varying reasons: With Singapore, analysts cite the strength of the Singapore dollar as a sizeable deterrent; for Thailand, it is its political instability.
Mr Nazri is right to feel anxious regarding the declining Chinese arrivals. Flush with cash and spending power from the stronger yuan, this group accounted for 7 per cent of total visitor arrivals to Malaysia last year, making them the third largest segment of tourists to the country after visitors from Singapore and Indonesia.
And tourism is a large foreign exchange earner in Malaysia, accounting for RM65.4 billion (S$25 billion) last year, or more than 7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product. Fully 18 per cent of that total came from Chinese arrivals.
As recently as August, Mr Nazri was reported to have expressed confidence that Malaysia was on track to achieve its targeted 28 million tourist arrivals for Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
This article was first published on Oct 16, 2014.
Get The Business Times for more stories.