KUALA LUMPUR: The Tourism and Culture Ministry is confident that Malaysia will be able to attract three million tourists from China this year.
Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said there had been a significant increase in the number of inbound tourists from China in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Describing the increase as "encouraging", Nazri said Sabah was the preferred destination for Chinese tourists due to a host of factors, including accessibility.
"Chinese tourists are drawn to Sabah because of its blue skies, beaches, warm seas, food, people, culture and accessibility.
"It's also located within a short distance from say, Hong Kong, which is three-and-a-half hours away by flight. It takes about the same to drive up to Penang from the Klang Valley.
"They (Chinese tourists) like it, and go on weekend getaways to Sabah," he explained.
Nazri said easy access to durian, especially of the Musang King variety, was another reason why Chinese tourists flock to Malaysia.
"Our durian season is in July. Musang King is something which the tourists love having here. It's not the same as the Musang King exported there (China).
"Exporting durian there is also very difficult, so the tourists prefer coming here. We are planning to set up durian stalls in this area (along Jalan Ampang) where it's surrounded by hotels and accessible," he told reporters after launching a new smart tourism digital mobile app called "HARTAR" at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTiC) here on Thursday.
Nazri said he was confident that Malaysia would hit the four million mark for inbound tourists from China in 2018, and subsequently reach eight million in 2020, due to the two visa schemes introduced by the Government in March last year.
The two schemes are eVisa and a special travel note called Entri.
Entri allows tourists from China to visit Malaysia for a period of not more than 15 days, without the need for tourist visas.
Those travelling for between 15 and 30 days must apply for an eVisa, which is approved within 24 hours on working days.
Nazri said Malaysia is making concerted efforts to attract Chinese visitors to the country in line with the "Belt and Road" initiative.
On "HARTAR", Nazri said the app would help serve as a digital platform to promote tourism in Malaysia.
In 2016, Malaysia received 26.7 million tourists with receipts amounting to RM82.1bil, an 18.8% increase compared with RM69.1bil in 2015.