BEIJING - Chinese tour agencies, who have been looking forward to visa-free travel to Malaysia, now have to be content with the Malaysian government's decision to waive the 80 yuan (S$17) fee.
Century Holiday general manager Zeng Cailing said she had been looking forward to the Malaysian government lifting the visa requirement.
"The fee waiver is not attractive enough. While the visa fee of 80 yuan has been exempted, the processing fee of 120 yuan still applies," she said.
Scrapping the visa requirement, said Zeng, would have helped to regain the confidence of Chinese tourists, whose desire to visit Malaysia had dropped following two air tragedies last year.
"We have planned for group tours of 600 people to Malaysia during the coming Chinese New Year holiday but so far, only 40 per cent of places have been taken up," she said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had announced that visa fees for travellers, including those from China, would be waived in an effort to boost the tourism industry.
The announcement was made during the 2015 Budget revision measures.
BTG International Travel & Tours general manager for outbound tours Li Shuang said the visa fee waiver proved Malaysia's "sincerity" in attracting Chinese tourists.
"Lifting the visa requirement will, of course, be more convenient but this involves bilateral discussion between the two governments," he said, adding that he had not given up on promoting Malaysia as a tourist destination.
"Malaysia still appeals to travellers with its nature, islands, culture, food and shopping destinations," said Li, adding that he preferred to look at the waiver from a "positive" perspective.
Demand for group tours during the Chinese New Year period, he said, had declined by half.
"But I am confident that free, independent travellers will be the trend to look out for," said Li.
Baicheng Travel chief operating officer Duan Dongdong said the waiver in visa fees would help "a little" in boosting Chinese tourist arrivals.
"It's more important to have a wholesome plan for the Malaysian tourism department to work closely with industry players in China.
"Ensuring the safety of Chinese tourists and introducing special promotions are examples of the possible measures," said Duan, adding that while bookings for group tours had dropped by 90 per cent, his company saw a 10 per cent increase in free, independent travellers.
"We have about 30,000 such travellers to Malaysia each year. Sabah, Sarawak and Johor Baru are their preferred destinations," he said.
Malaysian Embassy's tourism counsellor Noran Ujang said it would take part in exhibitions and organise seminars on new tourism products as well as familiarisation trips.
"This month, we are working with CYTS Tours, Malaysia Airlines and Adream Charitable Foundation to bring 20 primary school teachers from all over China to Malaysia," he said.