Visa exemption will help Sabah tourism recover


KOTA KINABALU: The proposed visa exemption for China tourists, if approved, will obviously enhance and facilitate travel between China and Sabah, said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

commenting on Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz’s statement recently that the government would look into the matter, Masidi said Indonesia and Thailand had already implemented it for Chinese tourists.

“Malaysia needs to be a bit proactive and not just reactive so that we remain on par or even one step ahead of our competitors.

“Tourism is a very competitive industry and we need to be constantly evaluating our options to prepare for sudden changes in the rules of the game,” Masidi said.

“This year is Festivals Year@Myfest. The federal government should consider declaring 2015 as visa-free for Chinese travellers to encourage them to choose our country as their preferred holiday destination,” he said.

Masidi also said 2014 was an ‘annus horribilis’ for the Sabah tourism industry.

“Chinese tourist arrivals plunged by 50 per cent due to some incidents beyond our control.

“We should make up for what Sabah has lost last year. Making it easier for the Chinese to travel to Sabah will definitely be a big step forward to enable the Sabah tourism industry to recover in 2015,” he added. Chairman of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Sabah, Datuk KL Tan, said the proposed visa fee exemption for tourists from China will definitely boost the tourism industry.

“The visa exemption proposal was initiated by Datuk Seri Nazri some two months ago and supported by the various stakeholders. It is frustrating this issue is still being deliberated till today.

“Visa exemption or visa removal will definitely boost the tourism industry. Other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia have adopted this visa exemption and have experienced positive tourist arrivals.

“Business model and consumer trend have changed and last minute bookings is now common. Having visa removal will lure back Chinese tourists,” Tan told The Borneo Post yesterday.

“Malaysia is now experiencing a drop of some 40 per cent of Chinese arrivals. Other sectors that will benefit in visa removal will be the retailing, entertainment, hotel, food and beverages and trade investments.

Due to changing consumer trends as mentioned earlier, the visa exemption will boost and increase more charter flights to Sabah, Penang, Langkawi and of course Kuala Lumpur,” he added.

Tan stressed the security issues on visa removal is a lame excuse unless the Home Ministry feels the security forces are sub-standard.

“Visa removal can be implemented on a year-to-year basis and granted for a stay of 14 days will suffice. The government needs to be proactive and realise the practices adopted by other tourist destinations,” he added.

Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (SATTA) president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw said exempting visa for China tourists would help boost the tourism industry in Malaysia and Sabah, as arrivals of tourists from China would surely increase.

However, Liaw said if the people from China were visa-exempted, the Immigration Department would have to play their role in differentiating the arrivals; whether they were tourists or Chinese who wanted to work in Malaysia.

“This is to avoid people from China to start a black market business or to work in Malaysia. The Immigration Department will need to increase their effort in filtering the arrivals,” he said.

Chinese Chamber of Commerce Kota Kinabalu president Michael Lui said visa exemption for Chinese tourists would be the best move to boost the weak performance of the tourism sector in Sabah.

“Tourists from China have big expenditures. We must open the gate for them to enter our country,” he said.

Meanwhile, chairman of Sabah Tourists Association, Tonny Chew, hoped the proposal made by Nazri would be accepted, as the tourism industry in Sabah is currently suffering from competition from other countries.

He said there were many other countries offering the same thing that Sabah was promoting, ecotourism.

“Most tourists opt for more convenient ways, which is what Malaysia does not have when it comes to visa requirements.

“Tourists have better options when other countries are offering more convenient visa requirements such as Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. The proposal will be a step forward for our tourism industry,” he said.

Chew also believes that Sabah is now safe for tourists to visit as the Eastern Sabah Security Command and other security forces are doing a good job in ensuring the security.