PETALING JAYA: China tourists are set to flock to Malaysia again after their country lifted strict Covid-19 travel restrictions last month.
The move by China, which comes amid a spike in cases in the country, has led some nations to impose restrictions on visitors from the country.
Malaysia is stepping up preventive measures and preparations to face a potential rise in cases as questions remain on how big the influx will be and what impact it will have on the country.
The following are questions and answers on how popular Malaysia is among Chinese tourists, the numbers of visitors who have been coming in the past, and how other countries including Malaysia are dealing with concerns of a spike in infections.
Are China tourists set to make a beeline for Malaysia?
Many countries that earlier lifted its pandemic restrictions – Malaysia included – experienced what has been described as “revenge travel”.
A buzzword that originated in 2021 after the world started reopening, it describes traveling as a way of making up for lost time during the pandemic.
China could be the next country to witness the trend, and many people from the country could be heading this way.
Malaysia is currently among the most popular holiday destination among China tourists searching for flights online, according to international online travel agency Trip.com.
The company said there has been a surge in interest among mainland Chinese to visit Malaysia and other pre-pandemic tourist hotspots following China’s announcement last month to lift strict Covid-19 travel restrictions.
“According to Trip.com Group data, from December 27 to January 2, the search interest for flights from mainland China to Malaysia has increased by 90% when compared to the same period the previous week (December 20 to December 26),” the company said in response to questions by The Star.
On Dec 27, China’s National Immigration Administration announced that it would, from Jan 8 this year, handle applications by Chinese citizens for ordinary passports for tourism, as well as resume permit issuance for mainland residents to visit Hong Kong for tourism and business purposes.
Trip.com said that from Dec 27 to Jan 2, the top 10 most-searched outbound destinations from mainland China are Thailand, Japan, USA, South Korea, Australia, Macao, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Canada.
“Malaysia ranks as the 12th for all destinations in terms of the search interests,” the company said.
Trip.com said the top five most-searched destinations in Malaysia are Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, and Langkawi.
Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said enquiries from China tourists, especially from students and businesses aiming for corporate visits, has more than doubled compared to before the reopening of China’s borders.
However, Tan said that actual bookings from China has yet to see a significant pick up as many travellers were looking at the Malaysian government’s position with regards to Covid-19 safety measures.
“Presently or during Chinese New Year we foresee slow and minimal bookings but enquiries after March and mid-year is expected to be encouraging.
“This is however subject to any new government policies on Chinese travellers,” said Tan.
Tan said China’s move to relax restrictions on outbound travel could lead to a shift in travel patterns among the country’s tourists.
He said China tourists are expected to travel in smaller groups with preference for “soft adventure” and nature-based tourism products.
Examples of soft adventure activities include short-distance hiking, horseback riding, fishing, snorkelling, hot air balloon rides and scenic aerial tours.
“Destinations that have islands, beaches, nature-based products and delicious local food have an added advantage,” Tan said.
How big a deal is the China market to Malaysia’s tourism industry?
In 2019 – the year before the pandemic hit – China was the third biggest source country for international arrivals to Malaysia behind Singapore and Indonesia, according to Tourism Malaysia figures:
The number of China tourists saw a rapid rise over the past two decades. It peaked in 2019 with 3.1 million arrivals before Malaysia closed its borders due to the pandemic.
There are two typical peak periods for China tourist arrivals to Malaysia each year, which is roughly at mid-year and year-end:
How have other countries responded to China’s lifting of its travel restrictions?
Some countries such as the US and Britain have reintroduced pre-flight Covid-19 tests for China visitors.
Others introduced testing upon arrival while one country – Morocco – has reported banned entry to all travelers from China:
Malaysia has so far announced several measures, such as screening all inbound travelers for fever.
All international arrivals who were detected to have fever or symptoms through the screening or self-declaration will be referred to the quarantine centre or the health department.
Wastewater from planes arriving from China will also be tested to detect Covid-19.
In addition, Sabah has announced that from Jan 8, all travellers from China to the state must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 according to the criteria set by their respective home countries before being allowed entry.
Travellers also need to present a negative RT-PCR or an RTK Ag Professional test result, having undergone the Covid-19 test which they underwent within a 48-hour period before their departure to Sabah.