Malaysia to scrap visas for Chinese tourists

After incessant pressure from the travel industry, Malaysia's government has finally agreed to scrap the visa requirement for all tourists from China, starting March the first. With low crude oil prices hitting government revenue hard, and consumer spending dipping, Malaysia is looking to tourism to provide an economic boost.

Over the past 18 months, Malaysia’s government has waived the visa fees for Chinese tourists, announced that tour groups would not require visas to visit the country, and introduced an e-visa scheme.

It was all aimed at reversing a worrying slide in the number of Chinese tourists coming to the country since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 154 Chinese passengers on board.

Despite all those measures, Chinese tourist arrivals have never properly rebounded, while neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia that have had more liberal visa rules have seen the number of Chinese tourists surge.

Facing economic headwinds and relentless pressure from the tourism industry, the Prime Minister finally announced that from March the first, people from China won’t need visas to visit Malaysia.

"We were elated to hear this finally, and I think this is the right move. And this time around we really have to walk the talk, we really have to make things happen," Hamzah Rahmat with Malaysian Assoc. of Travel & Tour Agents said.

"All the people in the industry are dreaming about waiving the visa. We hope this announcement is final and really can help to boom the inbound tourism for Malaysia, to bring a lot of China tourists to help the local economy," Keith Li with GTC Travel Troup said.

But there’s concern that some of the previous measures the prime minister announced were never properly implemented.

"The government servants from the other ministries other than the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, they really, really need to understand what tourism is all about and what tourism brings to the country, especially the economy of the country," Rahmat said.

Frustratingly for the industry, the visa waiver comes too late for the peak Chinese New Year period and is only set to run till year-end.

But tourism people are hoping the move will be made permanent, helping turn Malaysia into a favoured destination for Chinese tourists for years to come.