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Malaysia aims to woo back Chinese

2014-11-25 13:20 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Volume of tourists fell sharply after kidnappings, MH370 disappearance

It has been a difficult year for tourism in Malaysia. The mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight on March 8, in which two-thirds of its passengers were Chinese nationals, and the abduction of a Chinese tourist from a resort in Sabah on April 2, have made many Chinese tourists stay away out of fear and anger. With the Year of the Festivals 2015 tourism campaign around the corner, the country is going all out to woo back Chinese tourists who are a huge and important segment of the tourism industry.

Sounding a little exasperated, Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz said he cannot understand "the thinking of some people".

"We have this thinking that Malaysia is the only country people want to visit in the world. And we want to be so stuck up!" he explained.

Nazri is keen to reel in the Chinese tourists who come in huge numbers, love shopping and are big spenders. As an incentive, he is proposing that Chinese tour groups be allowed to enter Malaysia visa-free or be exempt from "exorbitant" visa fees for next year.

While the Malaysian government charges only 80 to 100 yuan or about 50 Malaysian ringgit ($14.91) for a visa, he said, this has been outsourced to private companies who charge 400 yuan to 500 yuan, or about 250 Malaysian ringgit for a visa.

"If it's a family of four, they end up paying 1,000 ringgit for the visas, which is too much," he said.

To prevent possible abuse, he suggested a visa waiver or fee exemption for Chinese tour groups. But there is a hitch. To do this, the Immigration Department would need to give its feedback. Based on experience, Nazri said, the feedback is "normally negative".

"Their thinking always is that the Chinese will come in, overstay and not leave. I can't understand their thinking," he said.

"The number of Chinese tourists plunged by 35 percent in May, and it was a 30 percent drop in June," Nazri said.

Nazri believes the kidnapping in Sabah had an even bigger impact on the Chinese than the missing MH370. Right after the kidnapping, 35 chartered flights from China to Sabah were immediately canceled.

By comparison, he said, it is rare for a plane to crash or go missing.

"It is bad luck if that happens. When you take a flight, it is not as if you are exposing yourself to that risk. But when you go to Sabah, you know the kidnappers are so active you are actually exposing yourself to the risk by going there. That is why Chinese tourists are not going to Sabah. They are very much affected by the kidnappings," he said.

"It used to be their favorite destination because of the beach, warm seawater and seafood."

Although Chinese nationals are jittery over Sabah, data indicate that they are starting to visit other states in Malaysia again.

Nazri said that in August, there was only a 9 percent drop in Chinese tourists compared to the 35 percent and 30 percent drop in May and June.

"We are quite confident that by the end of the year, Chinese tourist arrivals will return to normal."

But it took a lot of work to get back to this point.

Since the frustration and anger toward Malaysia came from first-tier cities, Nazri said Malaysia's tourism focus shifted to second-tier cities like Wuhan, Tianjin and Chengdu, whose residents were not so angry and aggressive.

He said that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's visit to China to mark the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations in late May helped too because Premier Li Keqiang promised Najib he would get Chinese tourists to go to Malaysia.

Following that, the first of 130 chartered flights from China headed to Kuala Lumpur and that lifted the numbers, Nazri said.

Nazri is still determined to push for free visas or fee-exempt visas for Chinese visitors.

"Let's try it just for a year. China is a big market. How on earth are we going to achieve our target of 29.4 million tourists if we don't welcome the Chinese here? It will be difficult."

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