I welcome the decision by the government to grant visa-free entry to tourists from India and China next year. This is indeed an important initiative to boost our tourism sector, especially during the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign.
Tourism is one of the key sectors in Malaysia’s economy as it constituted 15% of our GDP in 2018. In the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, tourism is one of the Key Economic Growth Activities (KEGA).
The visa requirement for Chinese tourists is one of the issues that I’ve brought up many times in parliament. The tourism industry is highly competitive, and Malaysia has been losing tourists to other countries in the region, such as Thailand, who have granted visa-free entry to tourists from China.
China is our third largest source of tourists while Indian is seventh. In 2018, Malaysia received 2.9 million visitors from China and 0.6 million visitors from India. In comparison, Thailand received 10.5 million and 1.6 million visitors from China and India respectively in 2018.
I am also glad that through this initiative the government will accept eWallets and credit cards as a proof of financial capacity. Previously, there has been cases where Chinese tourists were refused entry for not carrying sufficient cash although they have money in their eWallets.
However, the Immigration department still needs to improve their entry processing system and procedures. Many tour operators have feedbacked to me that their tour groups from China had to line up for 2-4 hours after arriving in the airport to pass through the immigration checks. This has dampened the mood of the tourists and has left a bad first impression on our country.
UMNO supreme council member Razlan Rafii has questioned the visa-free initiative by claiming that this is a ploy by the PH government to sell out the country and grant the tourists citizenship. He quoted the recent Auditor General’s report which has stated that 95% of Chinese and Indian nationals visiting Malaysia between 2016-2018 have no records of exit dates.
Razlan Rafii’s claims are baseless and foolish. Firstly, he should be questioning his own party leaders instead because his party was the government from 2016-2018. In addition, the Immigration Department has clarified that the exit date records were inaccurate because the tourists entered the country via the Electronic Travel Registration & Information (eNTRI) system, but they were recorded under the regular social visit pass system when they leave.
Nevertheless, the initiative must be implemented and monitored properly so that it can achieve the intended goals. If successful, the visa-free policy should be continued beyond 2020. I am confident that this initiative will increase the tourist arrivals from China and India, thus strengthening our tourism industry.