KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — Malaysian tourism grew strongly last year despite the twin air tragedies of Flight MH370 and MH17, with early figures indicating a 10 per cent increase in tourist arrivals over the first 10 months, according to the Associated Press.
A report by the news agency said Malaysia’s tourism sector growth last year was the fastest since 2008 despite a decade-long campaign touting Malaysia as the ideal Asian destination then, having drawn 22.9 million visitors from January to October.
The growth rate outpaced the 2.5 per cent increase over the same period in 2013 and a 0.7 per cent boost in 2012.
“The bad publicity has made Malaysia more well-known to the world,” Dayangti Transport and Tours vice-president Jaya Kumar Sannadurai was quoted as saying in the report.
Jaya Kumar acknowledged that the two incidents involving national carrier Malaysia Airlines likely had just a marginal effect on visitor numbers, but noted that being in the spotlight “is an advantage to us in some ways”.
Prior to the two tragedies, Malaysia had designated 2014 as a Visit Malaysia Year with the aim of luring 28 million visitors and RM76 billion in tourism receipts.
Malaysia is expected to fall short of its 28 million target — largely due to negative sentiments among tourists from mainland China over Flight MH370 that was en-route to Beijing before disappearing in the pre-dawn hours of March 8.
The waning interest among Chinese tourists was also attributed to the spate of kidnappings in Sabah’s east coast.
While China remained Malaysia’s third-largest source of visitors, the number of arrivals dropped by 11 per cent or about 175,000 people from January to October.
Tourism Malaysia deputy director-general Datuk Azizan Noordin said the country’s tourism industry held up courtesy of arrivals from neighbours Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand who accounted for two-thirds of the total visitors.
Malaysia also saw a 21-per cent increase in the number of arrivals from India — the sixth biggest source of visitors to Malaysia — and also a 43 per cent jump in South Korean arrivals.
Azizan said they are now working on reviving Chinese interest in visiting Malaysia, with Tourism Malaysia working closely with China to have more scheduled chartered flights flying direct from second- and third-tier cities such as Wuhan and Chengdu.
Beijing-bound Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 last year with 239 people on board and remains missing till today.
On July 17, MH17 was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.