KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia expects at least 30,000 tourists from China to cancel their trips here this year in the wake of the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.
Calling the sudden spike in cancellations "unprecedented", the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents fears that the travel and related industries could lose up to RM120 million because of the outrage in China over events surrounding Flight MH370.
"We have to accept the reality of the situation," said Datuk Khalid Harun, a spokesman for the association to The Straits Times on Thursday. "The whole of China is in mourning."
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers on Flight MH370 bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur International Airport were from China.
Contradicting statements and information by the Malaysian authorities who briefed affected families at the start of the hunt for the plane prompted many Chinese citizens to accuse the Malaysian government of hiding information. Some of them held a rare street protest at the Malaysian embassy on March 16.
"I have been made to understand that as many as 30,000 tourists from China have cancelled their holiday packages to Malaysia until 2015," Malaysia's Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Nazri Aziz was quoted as saying by The Star On-line on Thursday. The government had no plans to counter the cancellations as finding the cause of the jet's disappearance is paramount now, he said.
"I don't think we need to take any measures for now," the minister said. "In the culture and traditions of the Chinese people, closure is important for them to continue living."
The Malaysian government has already cancelled some of its Visit Malaysia Year 2014 events out of respect to the families of the missing passengers and crew members.
In the past month, the country's image as a tourism destination has taken a beating. In addition to the disappearance of MH370, Chinese tourist Gao Hua Yuan, 29 and a Filipina resort worker, Marcy Darawan, 40, were kidnapped from a resort in Semporna, Sabah. Kidnappers have demanded RM36.4 million in ransom, Malaysia's Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Thursday.
China ranks third in the number of travellers to Malaysia, behind only Singapore and Indonesia. After setting a record 1.6 million last year, the government had aimed for 1.79 million Chinese tourists this year prior to the aviation tragedy.