Extra RM1b if Malaysia cuts visa red tape for Chinese tourists, travel association claims

File photo of Chinese tourists taking pictures at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Matta has been actively lobbying for the Home Ministry to do away with visa requirements for tourists from China to halt the slide in visitor numbers. — Picture by Arif Kartono
File photo of Chinese tourists taking pictures at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Matta has been actively lobbying for the Home Ministry to do away with visa requirements for tourists from China to halt the slide in visitor numbers. — Picture by Arif Kartono

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — Malaysia has the potential to gain a whopping US$300 million or over RM1 billion in tourist receipts if Putrajaya opens up its door to travellers from China without requiring visas for short trips, Malaysian Association of Travel and Tour Agents (MATTA) has said.

Hamzah Rahmat, MATTA’s president, attributed this figure to the expected increase of number of tourists from China with no visa restrictions, saying they could spend an average of US$1,200 (RM4,184) each.

“If we get additional 250,000 China tourists, we can easily earn US$300 million as they are high spenders or US$1,200 each. This figure is similar to our Tourism Ministry’s projection for 2020 — Malaysia is targeting RM168 billion from 36 million visitors or RM4,666 each,” he told Malay Mail Online in an email reply yesterday.

Matta has been actively lobbying for the Home Ministry to do away with visa requirements for tourists from China to halt the slide in visitor numbers, with many of the association’s 3,000-strong members said to have experienced a drastic drop of between 50 per cent to 80 per cent in China tour groups.

“Also, there is a need for the Malaysian government to show goodwill to China, as much was lost after the MH370 tragedy. Our Home Ministry is operating in a silo as if visitors have no option but to apply for visas when they can easily go to other countries without visas,” Hamzah said.

The Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH370 went missing with 227 people on board, including 152 Chinese nationals, sparking anger and distrust in China over Malaysia.

If the trend of dwindling numbers of China tourists to Malaysia continues at the current rate, the country would stand to lose 228,601 tourists for this year, Hamzah said.

“For the first 7 months this year, Malaysia received 997,379 China visitors, a drop of 133,351 or 11.8per cent. If repeated over the remaining 5 months, the drop for the year would be 228,601.

“Granting visa exemptions to China visitors would allow us to climb back to 2013 figures before more Chinese tourists opt for other countries which can also offer the 3S — sea, shopping and sightseeing,” he said, also pointing to well-heeled travellers who are able to travel at the drop of the hat as potentially opting for visa-free countries instead of Malaysia.

For the year 2013, China was ranked among the top ten countries that generated visitors to Malaysia, placing fourth at over 1.79 million tourists arriving in the country. Last year, Malaysia had 25.7 million tourists, who spent a total of RM65.44 billion or RM2,544.90 per person.

MATTA said it was not seeking visa exemptions for an “indefinite period”, but said that even a minimum of two weeks travel without requirement for visas would be sufficient to bring in “genuine tourists” to Malaysia.

In outlining the benefits of visa-free travel, MATTA indicated that tourists who join tour groups would be able to skip alleged “middlemen” fees of RM250 to secure a visa that costs only RM50, also saying that airlines “would be able to offer promotional fares at short notice knowing that they can fill their aircrafts to destinations without visa.”

On Sunday, The Star reported Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as explaining that the revocation of Visa on Arrival (VoA) for Chinese tourists with valid visas from Singapore and Thailand was to prevent misuse by human trafficking syndicates — after China was listed as a hotspot for human trafficking.

Zahid said waiving the visa requirement for China visitors would be akin to inviting vice syndicates operating in China to bring their criminal activities here, saying that enforcement was necessary to prevent such activities from spreading to Malaysia.

Zahid had also said visa waivers should be reciprocal, noting that China had declined to remove visa requirements from Malaysians entering their country.

The minister’s remark drew fire from Malaysia’s travel association; its president urged the Home Ministry to cease its stereotyping of Chinese visitors and its vice-president in charge of inbound tourists, Datuk Tan Kok Liang, criticising the narrow view.

“Are countries granting visa exemption inviting visitors to carry out criminal and vice activities, or the Home Minister has no confidence on the police to tackle crime?” Tan asked in a statement.

“Allowing a 2-week stay without visa would boost the number of China tourists, which had been enticed by neighbouring countries. As such, MATTA is supportive of the Tourism and Culture Ministry’s appeal for Home Ministry to look into other forms of visa for inbound tourists,” he added.

In the same statement yesterday, MATTA had touched on fears of losing out on the lucrative Chinese market, providing statistics of China’s nationals spending a world record of US$102 billion in their global travels in 2012, also saying that they are expected to spend US$194 billion — more than all the world’s luxury shoppers combined next year.

China is also the world’s fastest growing market, with the number of international trips made by Chinese travellers jumping from 10 million in 2000 to a whopping 83 million in 2012 and expected to exceed 100 million trips next year, MATTA said.