Malaysian tourism industry still needs to improve


There are over 200 automated immigration clearance counters at the Vancouver airport in Canada. Perhaps the Malaysian immigration department could implement something similar. — Photos: LEESAN

Although the good news comes a little too unexpectedly, the feeling is great and thrilling. Oops, I am talking about the visa exemption extended to visitors from China and India by the Malaysian government.

At the same time, Malaysian passport holders can also enter China without a visa.

Most people may not feel excited about this visa exemption rule, and may also not understand its significance. However, if you plan to travel overseas, you will appreciate the value of such a rule as it allows you to go to these places whenever you wish, without having to spend time and money applying for a visa.

Having said that, don’t underestimate the Malaysian passport which is among the 10 most powerful passports in the world. We have visa exemptions in 123 countries, plus 47 others where visa-on-arrival is available to us. As if that’s not enough, more countries will join the visa-free list soon, most likely India and even Russia. The biggest hope will be for the United States and Canada to afford us visa exemptions.

As for inbound tourists, extending the visa exemption rule to visitors from China and India proved to be an unprecedented move by the Malaysian government. It is a major historical event as it also helped improve our diplomatic relationships with these two Asian giants.

I believe the authorities must have given this consideration much thought and discussion, and such an effort should be commended.

Most importantly, the visa exemption rule for Chinese and Indian tourists will strengthen our relationships with the two countries, promoting mutual visits as well as trade and investment, in addition to winning international applause and admiration for our country.

I once mentioned in my Sin Chew Daily column that visa exemption is not just as simple as putting an “on/off” switch, as authorities can come up with whatever reason or excuse to end things. What really matters is how the administrators look at this issue from a macroscopic point of view.

Now that this rule has become a reality, whatever problem that comes next will no longer be a big issue. However, while we celebrate this farsighted move, we will nonetheless feel a little worried. Are our border post personnel and infrastructure ready for the influx of tourists and investors from these countries?

Saks department store’s seasonal window displays and decorations at New York’s Fifth Avenue is said to attract 10 million tourists each year. Malaysia has similar attractions too, particularly in the Klang Valley.Saks department store’s seasonal window displays and decorations at New York’s Fifth Avenue is said to attract 10 million tourists each year. Malaysia has similar attractions too, particularly in the Klang Valley.

Are our inbound tour operators going to (again) offer drastic price cuts or “zero tour-fares” to woo group tourists and sacrifice the quality of tour products?

Will our inbound tour guides and coach drivers be ready to improve the quality of their services? Or are we just adopting the usual happy-go-lucky, “rilek” attitude, putting in zero effort to improve?

Our tour operators have had lots of experiences with the diverse service quality of personnel at border posts and sightseeing destinations in the many countries they have visited over the years. Nobody is perfect and there is bound to be something lacking at any of these places. What’s more important is for us to always do our best.

Just imagine, even the many government departments in a country can have very different levels of performance, and some may not even dutifully carry out instructions from the top. Could there be grumbling and frustration in their midst following the implementation of such a major visa policy by the government?

Who knows, some of them may just try to make life a little more miserable for the visitors in a display of vain authority.

The first impressions we give to our foreign visitors could very much be like this: Never-ending queues in front of immigration counters, or arrogant and unfriendly officials who are downright rude. And let’s not forget that some tour guides, drivers, hoteliers, shopkeepers and frontline service personnel may also perform badly.

That said, we must still believe that everything will turn out well, and no matter how horrible it might appear at first, there is always room for improvement in the future.

As a matter of fact, we have to admit that these people’s jobs are by no means easy, and what we can do is to be a little more understanding while mutually supervising in an attempt to improve our service delivery.

Mulu National Park in Sarawak is one of the most visited rainforests in Malaysia. Tourism stakeholders should help to promote this place more to our visitors.Mulu National Park in Sarawak is one of the most visited rainforests in Malaysia. Tourism stakeholders should help to promote this place more to our visitors.

As for the tourism ministry, its KPI is to make sure our foreign guests feel welcome and enjoy themselves in this country, as they will bring in the much needed tourist revenue, create job opportunities for Malaysians and lif the overall national economy.

Where this is concerned, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing’s performance is laudable. Most importantly, the tourism ministry must make sure that all visitors to this country will feel at home and have a truly enjoyable and value-for-money holiday, so that they will return some other day.

This could pose a major problem for our minister, though, who might think, “My job is to get the tourists coming and having a good time here. But look at the overall ambience and environment around us ... I think this job is not going to be easy at all!”

Anyway, we can always start with improving the smallest things. We are all at the same starting line, and as long as we give it our best shot with our top-notch Malaysian enthusiasm and hospitality (or what they call in Japanese, omotenashi), I’m quite sure our foreign guests will be able to feel Malaysia’s uniqueness, diversity and colours!

Around the world, far-sighted governments and their civil service teams started planning and preparing ahead of time during the pandemic lockdown, fully opening up once the time was right in order to welcome a sudden influx of international tourists and big spenders.

Compared to them, we appear to have acted a little too sluggishly, with key government departments adopting a lackadaisical attitude.

That said, we should still be thankful that the authorities have taken the decisive step of extending the visa exemption rule to visitors from some of our biggest sources of tourists despite a slow start. Hopefully we can still turn the tide around!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the globe-trotting traveller who has visited 137 countries and seven continents, enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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