Can we bring back the Chinese tourists? Sin Chew Daily

Chinese tourists taking selfies along the Esplanade Bridge in Singapore on Oct 18.
Chinese tourists taking selfies along the Esplanade Bridge in Singapore on Oct 18.PHOTO: ST FILE

(SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Walking on the Shinsaibashi Bridge in downtown Osaka, you may hear a melange of foreign languages such as Mandarin, Thai, Cantonese, Indonesian, etc, all serving to illustrate the fact that most of the people crowding the city's commercial heart are foreign tourists, a positive sign the Japanese government's effort to promote tourism has worked.

But back in Malaysia, our government officials are still very much embroiled in endless disputes over the exemption of visa requirement for Chinese tourists. With our shortsighted officials behaving more like frogs in a well, the future of this country is bleak.

There are as many as 120 million Chinese nationals travelling out of their country for holidays every year. If we can get just 3 per cent of them landing on our shores, our tourism sector should receive a major boost. Such immeasurable business opportunities are what all nations have wanted to seize.

Indeed the Malaysian government is also targeting this group of increasingly affluent tourists, but unfortunately we have been highly indecisive when it comes to offering visa-free entry facility to Chinese tourists.

We have not only shown little sincerity in inviting them here, but have even seen them as "potential foes" who might trigger national security concerns here.

It was initially promised that Chinese nationals would be exempted from visa requirement but in the end, they still need to apply for visas, albeit free, to enter Malaysia.

And then it was decided that between Oct 1 and March 31 next year, Chinese nationals entering Malaysia on group tours could do so without a visa.

Unfortunately our immigration department has defied the order from above in the pretext of safeguarding national security.

The immigration officials have fully exerted the potentials of Little Napoleons by treating Chinese tourists as potential trouble makers who would jeopardise the country's security.

This, no doubt, is highly demeaning.

As a compromise, the immigration officials eventually greed to offer visa exemption facility to Chinese tourists arriving in groups of two and above, but with the condition they purchase tour packages approved by the governments of Malaysia and China.

This means independent travellers will not be entitled to this facility.

China is the third largest source of foreign tourists in Malaysia after Singapore and Indonesia.

Chinese arrivals have dropped remarkably after the MH370 incident and Sabah kidnappings.

During the first three months this year, there were only 379,000 Chinese tourists visited the country, down 30 per cent from a year ago.

Where have all these Chinese tourists gone?

They go for regional countries that offer then visa exemption facility such as Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, and give Malaysia a miss.

Following the Japanese government's visa liberalization policy, Chinese tourists have been flocking the Land of the Rising Sun in droves.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan has recorded new highs for 15 months in a row since September 2013.

For the first 11 months in 2014, some 2.219 million Chinese tourists visited Japan.

The sudden surge in the number of Chinese tourists has remarkably stimulated the Japanese tourism industry, and the shopping craze of Chinese tourists in that country has become a much talked about topic in town.

They spend an average of 380,000 yen (S$4381) per person, and this immense purchasing power has brought enormous business opportunities across the Japanese commercial; sector.

As the Chinese nationals become more and more affluent, oversea vacations have become a part of their lives.

Chinese travel during the peak holiday seasons during the new year, spring festival, labour day and national day.

According to a recent survey, the top ten destinations for China's outbound tourists during these peak travel seasons are Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong/Macau, Taiwan, United States, Singapore, Indonesia, Maldives and Italy.

Japan is the biggest beneficiary of an unprecedented surge in Chinese outbound tourists while Malaysia is the biggest loser, thanks to our wavering visa policy.

According to a Merrill Lynch report released in March this year, some 109 million Chinese nationals traveled overseas last year, spending a total of US$164 billion (S$231 billion).

The report also predicted that Chinese tourists would spend up to US$264 billion overseas four years from now.

What a huge draw it is!

Governments across the world have been fighting hard to grab a sizeable share of this gigantic market, rushing to offer visa exemption facility to them, with our own government choosing to haughtily buck the trend.