PETALING JAYA: Public health must be safeguarded even while the country looks to the tourism sector to drive economic recovery, says the Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (MATTA).
“MATTA is not an expert on public health, hence, we always refer to the Health Ministry and the government to give us directions. We will follow accordingly,” said the association’s president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.
“Any decisions must be based on data and in accordance with global benchmarks.
“If any country is recording an alarming rate of infections, then we should implement the necessary measures,” he added.
He was commenting on calls by certain parties for visitors from China to be banned as it opens its borders amid a surge of Covid-19 infections there.
Tan said there would not be an immediate influx of Chinese tourists as Chinese New Year is around the corner.
He said arrivals from China would only be expected after March, dismissing allegations that Chinese nationals would flock into the country immediately, following the lifting of the republic’s travel ban tomorrow.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis also said the industry would only expect tourists from China to arrive after the festive season, and that peak arrivals would be expected around September.
“We haven’t seen any increase in demand from Chinese guests, as most of them have yet to renew their passports, so it will take some time for them to arrive in Malaysia.
“The sector is not optimistic of a significant increase of tourists in this first quarter – however, we might see it sometime in the second or third quarter of the year,” he said
Uzaidi also said there was no direct flight operational from China to Malaysia currently.
On handling any possible Covid-19 outbreak, he said tourism players in Malaysia were trained and prepared for any possibility.
“We have trained our tour guides and tourism product operators to identify the symptoms of Covid-19 over the past two years,” he said.
“I believe that the sector is ready, as we need to learn to live with the virus just like other diseases.”
Commenting on the economic repercussions if discriminatory moves are made against Chinese tourists, Uzaidi said the loss could be much bigger than estimated.
According to Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, Malaysia will experience an estimated loss of RM30bil if the country restricted the entry of Chinese tourists.
“It is true that we could lose around RM30bil if we close our borders to Chinese visitors, but actually the figure mentioned by Tiong may be conservative, even topping more than RM60bil,” said Uzaidi.
According to a Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry report from 2019, China was number four in terms of total expenditure per capita when visiting Malaysia, at RM4,546.
Saudi Arabian visitors topped the list with a per capita expenditure of RM11,376.90.