Calls to extend visa-free policy


Picture perfect: The Zhang family from Guangzhou, China, taking a wefie with the Petronas Twin Towers in the background. — YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

PETALING JAYA: As the one-year visa waiver programme between Malaysia and China approaches midpoint, there are growing calls for the initiative to be extended beyond December.

Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) president Mint Leong said five months since the implementation of the mutual visa exemption policy with China, there have been positive outcomes.

She highlighted a significant rise in Chinese tourists, mainly Free Independent Travellers (FITs) whom she said had positively impacted the tourism industry as a whole.

Leong said there had been a substantial increase in visitors to Kuala Lumpur and Sabah, with the latter experiencing a boost in direct and chartered flights.

She noted a surge in tourists from cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen during the recent Qing Ming Festival and leading up to Hari Raya.

“As such, the Malaysian government should negotiate an extension with China for a permanent visa-free agreement to further boost our tourism development,” she told The Star.

Leong pointed out that Malaysia has to play “catch up” with Thailand and Singapore which have already established mutual visa-free agreements with China.

She said Malaysia stands to lose its competitive edge in tourism if it does not extend the visa waiver with China, adding that the government has done a lot to promote the tourism sector over the past two years.

Echoing the views, Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) president Loo Kok Seong said the visa-free policy with China should be extended, adding that it would have a direct impact on Malaysia’s tourism and economic growth.

He suggested that Malaysia’s tourist destinations be promoted during peak seasons, like the durian season from May to August, to align with China’s summer holidays.

Loo also called on the Chinese government to consider granting Malaysians a 30-day visa-free entry to further stimulate tourism.

Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) president Datin Christina Toh said she noted the positive effects of the visa-free policy on hotel occupancy rates, driven by the increase in both traditional tour groups and FITs.

She credited the rise to the ease of access and tendency of tech-savvy Chinese tourists to use platforms like Xiaohongshu for travel planning.

“This shift towards independent travel caters to a more authentic, self-guided tourist experience,” she added.

The reciprocal visa-waiver programme allows Malaysians to stay in China for up to 15 days visa-free and for Chinese nationals to remain in Malaysia for up to 30 days. The programme expires in December.

Malaysia is setting its sights on attracting a record five million Chinese visitors in 2024 to accelerate its post-pandemic recovery.

China and Malaysia are reportedly working towards establishing a permanent reciprocal visa-free policy, a move that has already enhanced tourism and cultural exchanges.

Previously, the China Embassy’s minister Zheng Xuefang said China and Malaysia were collaboratively pursuing a reciprocal permanent visa-free agreement.

The establishment of mutual visa waivers has been instrumental in fostering tourism and enhancing interactions between the people of China and Malaysia.

Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for Chinese tourists. Last November, Malaysia welcomed 124,000 visitors from China, with these figures jumping to 168,000 in December, representing a substantial month-on-month increase of 35.1%.

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Visa Free , Malaysia , China , Tourism , Tourist

   

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