MATTA: Let’s increase direct flights to boost arrivals

Experiencing Penang: Tourists Wang Ling Jun, 37, (second right) and Lina Huang, 38, (right) from Shanghai with family members and friends walking along Bishop Street in George Town. — KT GOH/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: With the visa-free entry for China and India nationals coming into force last month, stakeholders are calling for more direct flights to complement the move.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) Penang chapter chairman Carolyn Leong said increasing the number of direct flights would boost tourist arrivals.

“The 30-day visa-free exemption for tourists from China and India, coupled with improved flight connectivity, would be a boon to the tourism sector here.

“An increase in the number of direct flights, especially from India, would be much welcomed by tourism players,” she said.

Leong said the visa-free travel has benefited Penang as well as those from China and India.

“It works both ways. There are more people coming to Penang, especially from China, as there are direct flights.

“Chinese nationals like to come to Penang before heading over to other parts in the northern region including Langkawi.

“Penang has plenty to offer, and it is safe and lively,” she added.

Leong hailed the move to implement visa-free travel to the two countries with the two largest populations in the world.

“The only thing is, we need more direct flights to bring them here,” she added.

Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chapter chairman Tony Goh said the limited frequency of direct flights to Penang has thrown a spanner in the works.

He said those travelling from India would touch down in Kuala Lumpur before going to either Melaka or Genting Highlands.

“They’ll travel to Penang only if they have time. If direct flights are introduced from various places in India to Penang, we believe there will be more tourists heading here,” he said.

Penang tourism and creative economy committee chairman Wong Hon Wai said the state is strengthening its international flight network to bolster the tourism industry.

He said there are two direct flights from southern China to Penang, while direct connectivity with India is still in the works.

“This year, we hope to get Penang connected with three international destinations in India, China and the United Arab Emirates.

“We are talking to two airlines to take up the Shanghai-Penang route,” he said.

Wong also visited four cities in India – Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kochi – under the state’s India Roadshow with the Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau.

He said the state will start with Chennai as a gateway from southern India.

“There is indication that by end of this year, there will be direct flights from Penang to Chennai.

“It takes time as the airline has to order an aircraft and clear technicalities with aviation authorities.

“In the future, we want to work on direct flights from other regions in India as well,” he added.

Wong revealed that when it comes to international tourist arrivals at the Penang Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal, Singaporeans ranked first followed by Indians.

“There are good Indian restaurants in Penang. We speak English and there is a big Indian community here, which makes it an attractive place to visit.

“This is the market we want to tap into,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chinese national Wong Ling Jun, 37, said he was thrilled with the 30-day visa-free travel to Malaysia.

“We love the food, the people and the heritage in Penang.

“It has been an amazing trip and we have learnt so much,” said the sales manager, who had planned the trip before the visa-free policy came into effect.

Indian national Singamuthu Chezhiyan, 46, made use of the visa-free travel to come and enjoy the Thaipusam festival here.

“We came down from Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu), and the timing is perfect as we can come to pray during Thaipusam,” he said.

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