The Malaysian government hopes to make up for an expected dip in visitors from China by getting more Singaporeans to go for holidays across the Causeway.
Malaysia's Minister for Tourism and Culture, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, said yesterday that more than 60 flights from China to Malaysia have been cancelled because of poor take-up rates from Chinese travellers since March when Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.
About two-thirds of the passengers on the plane, which has not been found, were from China.
The number of visa applications from China to Malaysia has also halved in recent months,
added Tourism Malaysia direc-tor-general Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.
"We have focused our concentration on markets in Asean, South Asia, Europe and the Middle East to balance the deficit that we think we may suffer from MH370," said Mr Nazri at a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Millennia Singapore hotel.
This strategy to grow Malaysia's tourism industry will depend heavily on ramped-up demand from Singapore holidaymakers, said Mr Nazri.
Singaporeans make up the biggest share of tourists - 52 per cent last year - to Malaysia, ahead of Indonesia and China.
Mr Nazri said: "Singaporeans have given us good support and we hope that you continue to do so."
The minister led a 24-member delegation from Malaysia to promote the country to travel industry players here. He also met officials from the Singapore Tourism Board.
Mr Nazri said he was optimistic Malaysia would see good growth from the Singapore tourist market this year, with the first quarter recording a spike in the number of visitors from here.
From January to March, 3.5 million Singaporeans went to Malaysia, up from 3.2 million over the same period last year.
He expects the total number of Singaporeans heading to Malaysia to grow to 13.6 million this year, up from 13.2 million last year.
Mr Mirza said more Singaporeans cross the Causeway to enjoy savings from the strong Singapore dollar and because of increased efforts to promote Malaysian attractions here.
Most are still attracted to traditionally popular destinations like Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Malacca.
However, the Malaysian government hopes to attract more tourists to places "off the beaten track", such as the Belum Rainforest Resort in Perak.
But even as Malaysia casts its sights on drawing more tourists from the region, it has not given up hope on the China market.
Mr Nazri said advertising campaigns to promote the country to Chinese nationals halted since March have recently resumed.
Malaysia also aims to draw two million tourists from China this year, up from 1.7 million last year.
"We will continue to promote Malaysia... we will not be cowed," said Mr Nazri.