LETTERS: After officiating the 23rd Asean sub-committee on culture and 11th Asean Plus Three cultural cooperation meeting in Kuching recently, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri expressed hope that the Home Ministry will consider granting multiple-entry visas.
Surely, there is no need to compel tourists to reapply for visas. Granting them multiple-entry visas would induce many to return to invest or spend more in Malaysia
Excluding Asean nations, more than half of all foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia in 2019 were contributed by just four Asian countries combined.
But, they are not among the 160 countries that were granted visa-free entries ranging from 14 to 90 days. The four countries are China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Tourists from these four countries could have easily doubled or tripled had their nationals been granted visa-free entry for 14 or 30 days. Foreign tourist arrivals in Malaysia could have been around 30.2 million or 34.4 million in 2019, instead of 26.1 million if multiple-entry visas were available to tourists from these four countries.
While most international travellers are on holiday, many come to Malaysia also for work, education, medical treatment and to visit friends and relatives (VFR).
Before the pandemic, about 200,000 foreign tourist arrivals annually were by those granted visa-free entry for 30 or 90 days' stay in Malaysia. Before expiry, they would leave the country and return shortly to start afresh with a new visa.
Hence, it is puzzling to deny China nationals visa-free entry for 14 days and only allow applications for e-visa. Such applications may have generated revenue for the government and the company involved, but those who found it a hassle travelled to more tourist-friendly countries.
In 2019, 155 million outbound China tourists spent US$254.6 billion globally. In other words, outbound China tourists were among the biggest spenders overseas, averaging RM7,310 per person in countries they visited.
In Malaysia, China tourists spent an average of RM4,921 per person and the 3,114,257 that came in 2019 spent a large sum in our country. Had we granted China tourists visa-free entry for 14 days' stay, we could have earned an extra RM15.3 billion; and if visa-free entry was granted for 30 days, an additional RM30.6 billion.
For international tourism and global economy to return to 2019 levels, we may have to wait until 2029 or longer. We can compete effectively only by opening our doors, like other countries.
In the past, it may be true that some China nationals could make a better living here. In 2000, the gross domestic product per capita for China was only US$959 compared with US$4,044 for Malaysia. By 2021, Malaysia had risen to US$11,371 but China had shot up to US$12,556.
After the outbreak of Covid-19 and followed by various restrictions, most have returned to China where opportunities there are much more plentiful.
Apart from allowing China nationals to enter our country visa-free for 14 days, the same should also be accorded for nationals from India, as the country resumed international flights on March 27.
While we continue to rely on Asean nations that have contributed 68.5 per cent of all foreign tourist arrivals in 2019, the biggest potential for growth comes from China and India. The population of these two countries combined is 2.8 billion, compared with 675 million in 10 Asean nations.
Finally, foreign investments usually rise and fall in tandem with how tourist-friendly a country is, starting with its visa policy.
But, if the Home Ministry refuses to budge under the new normal, promotional efforts by the International Trade and Industry, and Tourism, Arts and Culture ministries may come to naught.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times