There’s no doubt that many Chinese citizens are furious over the way Malaysian authorities have handled the search for a missing MH370 Malaysia Airlines jet, and reports now strongly show that this anger is set to take a major toll on Malaysia’s tourism industry.
Since the MH370 went missing on March 8, anguished family members of passengers on-board have grown increasingly frustrated with Malaysian authorities’ lack of information on the search and whereabouts of the plane. The fury reached a boiling point when Malaysia Airlines announced on March 24 that the plane had crashed with no survivors, prompting relatives of the 154 Chinese passengers on-board to release a statement condemning Malaysian officials as “murderers” and stating that both the airline and authorities had “continuously delayed, hid and lied” to them. On Tuesday, angry relatives protested at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, chanting that the “Malaysian government has cheated us.”
The treatment of the grief-stricken families has infuriated many Chinese citizens, who have also heard negative news about Malaysia from Chinese media and official statements. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman and other officials have publicly demanded more information from Malaysian authorities, while CCTV and op-eds in Chinese news have questioned Malaysia’s conduct. As a result, angry comments have poured onto Sina Weibo over the incident. “When I think of the Malaysian jet I get furious and depressed!” says one commenter. “I hope that Malaysian Airlines will give the Chinese people a rational explanation, or persuade the Malaysian government to do so.”
There is already evidence that widespread anger is going to have major impacts on Chinese tourism to Malaysia. Malaysia’s tourism authority has suspended its “Visit Malaysia” campaign as a result of the incident. “The ministry has stopped the promotion tours, especially in China, until the aircraft is found,” said Malaysia Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz. In addition, he stated that Chinese visits to Malaysia have been dropping since the disappearance.
According to a Reuters investigation published today, 11 different Chinese travel agents surveyed said that bookings for Malaysia trips have dropped “severely,” mainly due to anger about a perceived lack of information provided by the Malaysian government for the passengers’ families.
In the words of one Chinese travel agent:
“We used to have 30 to 40 customers a month for group tours to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Now there is no one asking about this route or booking,” a travel agent surnamed Chen told Reuters by telephone.
“Tourists don’t even consider going there. Many also have a negative impression of the country now,” said Chen with Comfort Travel, in the southern city of Guangzhou, which focuses heavily on Southeast Asia tours.
Meanwhile, a survey on Sina of more than 38,400 respondents found that the incident influenced 77 percent of them regarding whether or not they would be likely to travel to Malaysia in the future. According to a much smaller poll by Caijing, 52 percent of respondents said they would have gone to Malaysia in the past, but have now changed their minds.
The loss of revenue won’t be insignificant for Malaysia, which receives 12 percent of its tourists from China, according to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Malaysia’s tourism ministry had hoped for 28 million tourists this year, and Chinese tourists account for an estimated 0.4 percent of the country’s GDP. In October 2013, China President Xi Jinping visited Malaysia to strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries, which agreed to cooperate on many economic issues that included tourism. These efforts are likely to be put on hold for now as the search for debris continues.