Tourism sector rues new visa rule

Comprehensive plan needed to help industry get back on its feet, say experts

PETALING JAYA: A comprehensive plan that balances economic recovery with efforts to curb Covid-19, rather than ad hoc measures, is essential to help the tourism sector get back on its feet.

Otherwise, industry players said, Malaysia will lose out to other countries in Southeast Asia that are tapping the same markets for the tourist dollar.

By imposing hurdles on visa requirements, Malaysia will become less competitive than its neighbours, travel and hospitality experts told theSundaily.

They were responding to a statement by Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin that citizens from China and India will no longer enjoy the visa-on-arrival privilege as part of Malaysia’s measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Hamzah said the move was also to stamp out abuse of the facility.

Many have been using Malaysia as a transit point for human trafficking activities as well as for “Macau” scams, he added.

Visitors arriving from China and India have, until now, been granted entry through the Electronic Travel Registration and Information facility.

Malaysian Association of Hotels vice-president CS Lim said the move will only hurt Malaysia in the long term.

He pointed out that China and India are big markets for tourism and Asean nations, including Malaysia, have been competing “fiercely” to tap these two markets.

Records show that more than two million tourists from China had visited Malaysia each year since 2016.

The figure peaked at 2.94 million in 2018.

India is a growing market for the tourism sector in Malaysia.

In the first six months of 2019, 354,000 tourists came from India, a 15.2% growth over the previous year.

Lim said withdrawing the visa-on-arrival facility would have a significant impact on tourism.

“We expect only a small number of tourists in 2021 given that vaccination rates (for Covid-19) are still very low,” he said.

The Malaysian Travel Agency Association labelled the new measure as a “lame excuse”.

“It’s too drastic. There are so many other ways to mitigate the situation (of Malaysia being used as a transit point for human trafficking),” its president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said.

In any case, tourists would be required to observe international protocols that require them to show proof they have been vaccinated.

“This can be documented in their passports, together with other medical reports. Malaysia can easily provide the necessary healthcare.”

On the issue of human trafficking, Mohd Khalid said the Immigration Department could beef up security at the border to curb criminal activities.

The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, on the other hand, is more receptive to the new measures.

Its acting CEO, Nik Yazmin Nik Azman, said the council would stand by the government’s decision to prioritise national safety as well as the well-being of inbound travellers from India and China. – theSundaily