Counting on Chinese tourists

  • Columns
  • Monday, 08 Feb 2016

Tourists on an incentive trip from China arriving at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

Many businesses are hoping to see an influx of tourists from China who are noted for their buying power. And with no shortage of competition from other tourism destinations, we must make them feel welcome.

IN the revised Budget 2016 announced on Jan 28, the Government sent a worrying message to Malaysians: The country’s economy, hit by local and external factors, will deteriorate further if nothing is done to arrest the decline.

The plunge in crude oil price and slowdown in the region has forced Malaysia to look for ways to stimulate the economy.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in revising 2016’s growth down to 4%-4.5% from 4%-5%, announced measures to boost growth.

To small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the most cheerful news had to be the measure to accord Chinese tourists free visa for a maximum stay of 15 days from March to December 2016. It eclipsed the announcement of increased government funding by RM6bil to SMEs and startup companies.

The reason is simple. Tourism brings immediate positive impact to businesses, while financing take months to see daylight. Application for government soft loans is known to be a slow process.

The visa exemption, according to director-general of Tourism Malaysia, Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, could push up arrivals from China by two to three-fold.

According to Tourism Malaysia, tourists from China in Jan-Nov 2015 totalled over 1.5 million with an average spending per person at RM3,335. This means Malaysia earned a total of RM5bil from Chinese tourists.

In Budget 2016 tabled last October, Najib allocated RM1.2bil to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture to woo 30.5 million tourists in 2016 with targeted contribution to the economy at RM103bil.

If Chinese arrival double or treble this year, Malaysia can expect to net an additional RM5bil to RM10bil from inbound Chinese tourists, assuming the other segments of tourism hit their target.

Indeed, the influx could have been even higher if the visa exemption had been implemented immediately. This is because the Chinese New Year period is one of the three peak seasons for China’s outbound tourism. The other two being May 1 (Labour day) week and the October national day celebration.

In other words, the Prime Minister has let a golden opportunity slip.

According to all logical analysis, the influx will take place. South-East Asian nations, particularly Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, are close to the hearts of Chinese nationals because many still have familial ties. For Malaysia, there is an additional historical attachment. China’s people know that Ming Dynasty’s Admiral Cheng Ho came to Malacca several times 600 years ago, and so one of the must-visit places is Malacca. Other places they fancy are Genting Highlands, KLCC, Langkawi and Penang.

If during the Jan-Nov 2015 period, Thailand — with fewer Mandarin speakers than Malaysia — could attract about eight million Chinese tourists, there is no reason why Malaysia should fare so badly with just 1.5 million.

Yes, we blame the unexplained MH370 plane disappearance in March 2014 and the MH17 disaster in Ukraine several months later. There was initially emotional outburst and anti-Malaysia sentiment. But those incidents were out of Malaysia’s control, and rational people would not shun Kuala Lumpur for these reasons.

The key factor, many believe, has to do with the attitude of our immigration officers.

For reasons known only to them, some officers take things into their own hands and are reluctant to implement the Government’s friendly policy towards China. Why is it so difficult to implement the e-Visa for Chinese tourists after the policy announcement by Najib in October 2015?

If we all love Malaysia, then it’s time to show it by helping to save the economy immediately.

And like it or not, welcoming Chinese tourists is one of the ways forward.

Tourists spend money to make themselves happy and their holiday worthwhile. Among the deep-pocketed Chinese tourists, there is a saying: Thrift is virtuous, but squandering (money) is happiness.”

In the tourism sector, there is also a popular saying: Tourists kill nothing, except time; take nothing, except pictures; leave nothing, except footprints.

Of course, they do leave some rubbish behind. But they hand over their cash to our airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, hawkers and traders.

Ho Wah Foon is an associate editor at The Star.
Ho Wah Foon is an associate editor at The Star.

This keeps many people happy and employed. At a time when the ringgit is battered and local spending is slow, the possible influx of renminbi should be welcomed. Big-spending Chinese tourists have lifted the economies of some Western countries, Hong Kong, Taiwan and more recently Korea and Japan. The “buying explosion” by Chinese tourists in Japan from July 2015 onwards included purchase of bathroom equipment, rice cookers, cosmetics and condoms. Indeed, the craze over Japanese condoms has boosted what is essentially a sun-set industry in aging Japan.

Although China-Japan relations have been strained by the East China Sea disputes and Japan’s denial of war crimes in the Nanjing Massacre, it didn’t seem to bother the three million Chinese visiting Japan last year.

Malaysia is lucky in that it needn’t worry about sudden changes in Chinese attitude as the two governments enjoy close relations.

In fact, during his visit to Malaysia in November, Prime Minister Li Keqiang told Malaysians to get ready for an influx of Chinese tourists as he would be encouraging his countrymen to visit. This has been interpreted as a form of support for the Malaysian economy, in addition to his pledge to buy Malaysian government bonds.

So let’s welcome the tourists.

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Business , Central Region , Ho Wah Foon , China , tourist


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