Fun and durians bring Chinese tourists back

All smiles: Tourists from China (from left) Zhou Yu, Ya Fang, Yo-Yo Tang and Xiao Zeng posing for a photograph wearing Nyonya attire at Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town. — KT GOH/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Whether it’s for fun or the durian, Chinese tourists are back here in full force.

And it’s not even the halfway mark for 2024, but Penang already recorded a whopping increase by 370% more for the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

This is thanks to the visa-free policy and direct flights between Penang and China, says state tourism and creative economy committee chairman Wong Hon Wai.

“Between January to March this year, we have received 22,420 visitors from China, compared with 4,768 arrivals in the same period last year,” he said.

Wong clarified that these are only those who arrived via direct flights from China, while those who came via other means, such as through domestic flights from Selangor, were not factored in.

“They are currently the nation with the third highest arrivals to Penang International Airport,” he said.

Travellers from Indonesia and Singapore, which stood as the highest number of arrivals, recorded an increase of 30.44% and 74.33% this year, from 75,141 to 98,012 and from 22,310 to 38,890 respectively.

“The implementation of the visa-free policy for travel for China further spurred the arrival of travellers from China.

“Many are now taking direct flights while others arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), toured Kuala Lumpur and then came to Penang via domestic flights or by other means of transport.

Wong said there were 21 direct flights between Penang and China now with four more flights to be added at the end of May.

“At present, Penang is receiving seven flights weekly from Xiamen Airlines and China Southern Airlines (from Guangzhou).

“In addition, Cathay Pacific and AirAsia are each providing four and three flights weekly from Hong Kong. Batik Air from Haikou is available for charter and starting May 31, Juneyao Airlines from Shanghai will provide four flights weekly to Penang,” he said.

Several events in the coming months are expected to attract a higher number of travellers including the Chinese, said Wong.

“We have the durian season in Penang from May to June, followed by the George Town Heritage Celebration and George Town Festival as well as Penang Hill Festival in July.

“There will also be a sizeable number of Chinese participants coming for several international conferences in Penang,” he said.

Penang Tourist Guide Association chairman Clement Liang said besides the routine tour groups, many younger Chinese travellers visited Penang on their own.

“Penang is a big magnet drawing everyone in, from being a Unesco World Heritage Site to its local food and a wide array of cultures including the Peranakan which cannot be experienced in China.

“One of the favourite trends for ladies from China is to rent and dress up in Nyonya fashion to take photos in George Town,” he said.

Liang said language barriers could be a challenge for some Chinese travellers, but they are being aided by exposure and technology.

“Some Chinese travellers will have trouble communicating with non-Chinese traders or even bus drivers.

“But with information on the web and the aid of translator apps on mobile phones, most of them are adapting well,” he said.

Durian sellers are looking forward to tourists from China too.

Peter Tan, 45, who operates a stall within the heritage enclave near Armenian Street, said ever since durians were exported to China, many of them have gotten to know the fruit.

“They love being able to get them fresh here. Their exposure to different types of durians in China has led to them being more experienced. Some already know the variants they prefer and some even called ahead to check on our stocks.

“On average, each customer would spend up to RM100 just to savour the best there is, as they know Penang is famed for durians. Although their arrivals have slowed down a bit since Chinese New Year in February, I hope it will pick up again soon,” he said.

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