A Malaysia Airlines jet taxis at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (Shutterstock)
Malaysia’s tourism authority announced in March that it would stop promoting the country as a tourist destination in China until the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was found, but the search appears to be dragging out too long for officials to live up to their promise.
Earlier this week, Malaysia Minister of Tourism and Culture Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz stated that Tourism Malaysia’s China promotional programs would soon be resumed after they were halted as a result of the flight’s March 8 disappearance. The announcement comes soon after Malaysia Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited China to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries and reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding relating to the tourism sector. The decision marks a reversal of the policy that promotional tours in China would be on hold “until the aircraft is found,” according to Aziz in March.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) in Beijing on May 30, 2014. (Xinhua)
After the flight’s disappearance, a massive outpouring of Chinese anger over perceptions of how Malaysian authorities were handling the search and treating Chinese passengers’ grief-stricken families caused close to 30 percent of Chinese tourists to cancel their bookings to Malaysia in April. Aziz previously stated that the situation could cause the ministry to lower its annual tourism target of 28.8 million total visitors. This came as a major blow to Malaysia’s travel industry: in 2013, China was its third-largest source country of international travelers with 1.7 million arrivals.
Although the flight hasn’t been found yet, Malaysian tourism officials are now more optimistic about earning back lost Chinese tourism revenue. Tourism Malaysia’s deputy director-general of promotions Datuk Azizan Noordin announced in Hong Kong on June 4 that the country is confident it can attract 2 million Chinese tourists this year, which would mark a year-on-year increase of 15 percent. "The increase in the number of visitors from China helps Malaysia to generate more income from the tourism sector including its airlines and hotels," he said. China's Ambassador to Malaysia Hua Huikang has also shown positive signs, stating in May that "Chinese tourists will come back."
Malaysia is one of several Southeast Asian countries that have recently seen a decline in Chinese tourist numbers due to political controversies. Violent anti-China riots in Vietnam in May caused thousands of Chinese nationals to be evacuated, while a coup in Thailand made Chinese visitor numbers drop by 19 percent from the year before for the period between January and April.
As a result of these dropping numbers, nearby vacation spots such as Bali and Sri Lanka could receive an added Chinese tourist boost. It is possible for locations to bounce back from political causes of a Chinese visitor decline—Japan finally saw its Chinese traveler rates pick up this year after China’s 2012 anti-Japan riots caused bookings to plunge.