KUALA LUMPUR - The Cabinet has agreed in principle to ease visa requirements for tourists from China.
The Cabinet, which met yesterday, has directed the Home Ministry to further study the move, sources told The Star.
"Easing visa requirements for tourists from China will boost tourist arrivals and strengthen the bilateral ties between Malaysia and China," said the sources.
Indonesia, which waived visa requirements for five countries - China, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Russia - effective January, is expecting an additional 450,000 foreign tourists and RM1.9bil in foreign exchange for this year as a result of the visa-free policy.
On Monday, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Hamzah Rahmat said it was high time for Malaysia to implement a similar move.
He noted that even European countries had eased visa requirements for Chinese tourists.
As Malaysia and China were so close, the sources said an easing of visa requirements would definitely boost tourist arrivals.
Last month, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said Malaysia was expected to attract 1.4 million Chinese tourist arrivals this year in conjunction with the Malaysia Year of Festival (MyFest 2015).
The number, he added, was part of the Government's target of getting 29.4 million foreign tourists to visit Malaysia this year.
Business groups have lauded calls for Malaysia to emulate Indonesia and abolish visa requirements for Chinese tourists.
Removing visa requirements would be the best step forward in view of the good relationship between the two countries, said Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (KLSCCCI) president Datuk Ter Leong Yap.
"We are their biggest trading partner in the South-East Asian region and they are our biggest trading partner.
"Chinese tourists can easily go to Indonesia or to Thailand, but to come to Malaysia, there is still the hassle of having to get a visa," he said.
ASEAN-China Economic and Trade Promotion Association secretary-general Datuk Dr Chin Yew Sin said continuing to impose visa restrictions on Chinese tourists would make "a mockery" of the strong bilateral relationship between the two countries.
"It is high time we abolish the need for a visa. Our neighbouring countries have already abolished the visa requirement, if we don't, how are we going to compete?" he said.
By removing visa requirements, Dr Chin said Malaysia could potentially attract more investors from China.
"Chinese tourists also prefer to come here because we have a sizeable Chinese community. They feel quite at home here. The visa requirement is the only stumbling block now," he added.
The Tourism and Culture Ministry, in an e-mail reply to The Star, said the decision on whether the entire visa requirement could be abolished depended on the Home Ministry.
Between January and August last year, Malaysia received 1,146,581 Chinese tourists, a drop of 11.9 per cent from the same period in 2013.
A total of 1,791,423 Chinese tourists were recorded in 2013, an increase of 14.9 per cent compared to 2012.
Until August 2014, Chinese tourists contributed to 6.2 per cent of the total tourist arrivals, while in 2013, they accounted for 7 per cent of the total 25.7 million tourist arrivals.