KUALA LUMPUR, June 9 — The number of foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia is expected to hit five million by the end of this year, according to the country’s largest association for travel and tour.

The easing of restrictions since April 1 and the renewed surge in international travel put the industry in a good position to recover, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang told Xinhua in a phone interview.

“We have had around one million arrivals since the government lifted restrictions on international tourism arrival. Of those, about 600,000 arrivals were from neighbouring Singapore,” he said.

“However, we are optimistic as countries from the EU, Australia, Japan, India and other Asean countries have been giving us very positive feedback and we feel the five million mark will easily be reached,” he added.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced Malaysia’s transition to the endemic phase of the pandemic and reopening of its borders to international travellers from April 1, partly to ease pressure on the country’s economy.

The decision was made due to the successful national immunisation campaign against Covid-19 and represents an exit strategy to enable Malaysians to return to almost normal life after a two-year battle with Covid-19.

Tan, however, said the tourism sector still faces challenges, most notably a shortage in manpower following two years of disruptions and other problems in securing foreign workers.

“This has also been noted by Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri, who we are working with to raise these issues and seek solutions. The shortage of workers is particularly concerning as it affects the ability of hotels, restaurants and other manpower intensive businesses,” he said.

“However we are confident that as things continue to improve, we will see a normalisation and the sector will finally be able to pick up where it left off before the pandemic started, even if it takes some time,” he said.

According to data from Tourism Malaysia, an agency under the ministry, Malaysia recorded 26.1 million arrivals in 2019, contributing RM86.1 billion, with this figure dropping to 4.33 million arrivals in 2020 as the pandemic took hold and only 130,000 arrivals in 2021. — Bernama