‘Retail key to our growth’

Loke (sixth from left), Sharan (fifth from left) and MRCA council members tossing yee sang at the MRCA CNY Celebration 2024 at a hotel in Petaling Jaya. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Minister says it reflects the health of service, tourism sectors

THE visa-free travel initiative for citizens from China and India to Malaysia has borne fruit, with a 35% and 60% increase in visitors from the respective countries recorded in December compared to the previous month, says Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

The 30 days visa-free travel to Malaysia is until Dec 31, 2024.

“For Chinese tourists, the figures recorded were 130,000 in November 2023 to over 170,000 in December 2023,” said Loke, who was guest of honour at the Malaysia Retail Chain Association’s (MRCA) Chinese New Year celebration.

“For Indian tourists, the base was smaller at 52,000 in November 2023 and went up to 84,000 in December 2023.”

He said the figures were shared by the Immigration Department during a meeting to discuss strategies to boost the tourism industry in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2026 and to review the visa-free policy.

“In terms of passenger movements at all airports in Malaysia, 84.8 million passengers were recorded last year, which is almost 90% of pre-Covid-19 pandemic level.

“Out of that number, 39 million comprised international passengers,” said Loke.

“We are confident that in 2024, passenger movement at all airports can hit 100 million.

“There will be many initiatives and campaigns to ensure the arrival of tourists continue to grow in years to come, as we gear up for Visit Malaysia Year 2026.”

He said there were complaints of long queues at KLIA’s immigration counters with some having to wait up to two hours.

“The Home Ministry is working hard to solve that problem to ensure queues can be cleared faster.”

He noted that the retail industry was very important because it showed the health of the nation’s economy.

“If retail does well, it means the people’s purchasing power has gone up. The retail industry is also an indicator of the health of the service and tourism sectors,” said Loke.

“We have been focusing on the tourism industry as an immediate booster to our economy. That’s one of the reasons why the government has taken many steps in the last few months to boost the tourism industry, such as the visa-free travel initiative.”

He added that the Transport Ministry had policies and projects that were friendly to the retail industry.

These include encouraging more transit oriented development in major cities throughout Malaysia, where rail stations must be connected to development projects, be they residential or commercial, as well as the Rapid Transit System Link between Johor Baru and Woodlands in Singapore.

MRCA’s Chinese New Year celebration at a hotel in Petaling Jaya included an LED dragon dance performance, face mask changing show and Year of the Dragon fortune forecast by a feng shui master.

MRCA Branding Education Charity Foundation chairman Datuk Seri Nelson Kwok and foundation trustees later presented a donation of RM25,000 to Ti-Ratana Welfare Society founder and adviser Datuk K. Sri Dhammaratana for the Ti-Ratana Bentong Building project.

“MRCA, in collaboration with the Retail Group in Malaysia, has projected that Malaysia’s retail sales for 2024 will reach RM425.3bil, reflecting a 3% increase from 2023,” said MRCA president Datuk Sharan J. Valiram in his speech.

“This achievement is remarkable, especially considering the industry’s shift from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to embracing various online channels in just two years.

“It is noteworthy that the retail industry recently generated 15,000 new jobs with the addition of new shopping spaces.

Valiram urged policymakers to involve MRCA in the decision-making process in shaping policies that would benefit all.

MRCA represents over 550 members with 40,000 nationwide.

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