Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia has plummeted dramatically because of the MH370 incident. Although we have seen mild recovery in this sector, the pace has been slower than anticipated.
Even the response at the Shanghai International Travel Mart is disappointing.
Despite the generally poor outlook, some tourism operators are optimistic that things will improve towards the end of the year, considering the 2 per cent increase in Chinese visitors an encouraging sign.
Tourism and culture minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz pointed out recently in Shanghai that the MH370 incident had dealt a severe blow on the country's tourism industry.
However, the number of tourists from China in August increased by 2 per cent compared to the same month last year, showing that Chinese tourists have slowly recovered their faith towards Malaysia.
Nazri believed the number of Chinese tourists to Malaysia would continue to increase for the remaining four months this year.
Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) secretary-general Leong Hooi Min said the recovery of Chinese tourists to Malaysia was confined to independent travellers while the pace of recovery had been slower than industrial anticipation.
When contacted by Sin Chew Daily, Leong said Nazri has said during the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Intentional Travel Mart recently that the faith of Chinese visitors had recovered but that was confined to small numbers of independent travelers while visitors on group tours to Malaysia had plunged by more than 50 per cent compared to the same period last year (November).
Currently at the Shanghai International Travel Mart in China, Leong said the response at the Malaysia pavilion on the second day after the opening was disappointing.
"The MH370 incident has been over more than half a year now and many tourism operators were expecting more Chinese nationals to visit Malaysia during the National Day holidays. Unfortunately the outcome was far from what we have anticipated.
The return of Chinese tourists has been very, very slow."
Tourism operators are now pinning their hopes on the Spring Festival holidays next year but she said so far only very limited numbers of tour bookings have been received.
Other than the MH370 incident, the dramatic drop in Chinese visitors to Malaysia has also been caused by the shift toward other regional destinations such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Although the entire Southeast Asia in general was affected by a shift of priority of Chinese outbound tourists, Leong said the waiver of visa fee offered by Thailand has made that country a top destination for Chinese tourists to Southeast Asia.
She hopes the government would expedite the liberalisation of visa policy, including waiver of visa fee or even visa-free entry for Chinese tourists.
Liberalize visa policy
The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) vice president (inbound) Tan Kok Liang said Malaysia's tourism industry had lagged behind our regional neighbours.
He said a pressing need now was for the government to exempt visa fees for Chinese tourists as proposed by tourism minister Nazri Abdul Aziz.
He said we had lost plenty of Chinese tourists due to the MH370 incident and kidnappings in Sabah, and now, we are also behind regional countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines in terms of visa policy, resulting in unexpectedly slow recovery of inbound tourists from China.
"Other countries are providing visa-free entry or waiver of visa fee for tourists from China. As a result, Chinese travel agencies are concentrating on tours to these countries.'
Below the mark
The Malaysia Shopping Malls Association president Eddy Chen said the 2 per cent year-on-year increase of Chinese tourists in August had been a positive development.
"After the tragic MH370 incident, the number of Chinese tourists to Malaysia has been on the rise during the past few months."
He pointed out that tourists from China and Middle East were big spenders and to develop the country's tourism industry, it is essential to lure more tourists from different countries.
The number of Chinese visitors to Malaysia breached the 1-million mark in 2011, further increased to 1.5 million in 2012.
According to the statistics of the tourism and culture ministry, Chinese is the third biggest group of foreign visitors to the country at about 1.79 million, after Singapore (13.17 million) and Indonesia (2.54 million)
The government has earlier expected 2 million Chinese tourists to visit Malaysia this year.
However, the number of Chinese tourists to the country was only 997,000 for the first seven months this year, 11.8 per cent lower than the 1.13 million recorded during the corresponding period last year.