As TikTok changes travel habits, will Malaysia’s visa-free entry be enough to attract ‘picky’ Chinese tourists?

“More and more spontaneous travelers are flying in for the weekend,” Uzaidi said in Asia this week. “They’re also braver to try new things.”

This includes an increase in tourists visiting Malaysia for hiking and fishing, as well as golf, which is one of the most popular activities closely associated with Chinese tourists.

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Since Friday, Chinese and Indian tourists have been able to enter the Southeast Asian country visa-free for 30 days, as part of Malaysia’s efforts to seize market share from its neighbors. Thailand And as the high season begins in earnest, it will revive tourism businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
To stay ahead of expected demand, Malaysia-based regional low-cost carrier AirAsia announced it would add nearly 25% more flights. Chinastarting in the first quarter of 2024, will add 5.2 million seats annually.

Tour operator Albert Lo told This Week in Asia that his company typically receives “an average of three to five inquiries a week.” But now, this week alone, 61 groups have contacted us about their packages. ”

Low said his company, which specializes in package tours for Chinese tourists in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, had about 5,000 customers in the year to November 30, compared to before the coronavirus outbreak. It said it was down at least 30% compared to the volume the company managed in 2019. strike.

Lo added that visa-free access to Malaysia could increase his business by at least 50%, given the increased interest in the past week alone.

Kuala Lumpur’s gourmet street is popular with tourists.Photo: Shutterstock

unique experience

However, in order to overcome regional rivals such as Thailand, IndonesiaAngeline Tan, a researcher at think tank ISIS Malaysia, said the Malaysian island of Bali needs to not only make it clear that it is safe to visit, but also promote unique experiences such as culture, ecotourism and wellness. Stated.

“The pandemic has made the world seem like a scary place, and this has affected the mentality and decision-making of travelers,” she says.

Thailand’s unique visa-free offer chinese tourists Stories of Chinese kidnapping gangs reportedly targeting tourists and ongoing scams in the Mekong region dragging in tens of thousands of unwilling Chinese workers have sparked a lot of confusion. It is said that people are afraid.

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Similarly, social media curate a more dynamic, curious and hopeful traveler, with clients doing their own research before they depart. tick tock Before you decide what you want to do, you can also visit Douyin, the Chinese version of the popular micro-video blog.
“[Before the pandemic] They weren’t picky. All they did was spend money and eat,” Lo said. “What’s happening now is that they’re only going to spend their money after doing their research, and they believe what’s posted on TikTok, Douyin, etc. Social media It is recommended. ”

Malaysian Travel Agents Association president Nigel Wong said it was too early to reveal numbers, but he was optimistic that Chinese tourists would give the industry the boost it needed.

“It’s definitely going to turn around,” Wong said in Asia this week.

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Will Chinese people spend money?

However, a sudden increase in inquiries alone will not generate tourist income.

The lure of island hopping, five-star golf courses and Malaysia’s famous gourmet scene is enough to get Chinese tourism back in earnest for many tourism-related businesses, especially on islands and remote areas with some of the best beaches. The question remains as to whether there is. They are victims of the pandemic.

Analysts say the purchasing power of Chinese tourists may be declining, largely due to the slow pace of China’s economic recovery from the pandemic, and Chinese tourist volumes may not recover as much as expected. I predict that.

Chinese tourists visit a clothing store in Seoul. Analysts predict that Chinese tourist volume may not recover as much as expected, as China’s slow economic recovery from the pandemic is likely to reduce the purchasing power of Chinese tourists.Photo: Bloomberg

The China Bureau of Statistics reported in June that the youth unemployment rate hit a record high of 21.3%. The International Monetary Fund had predicted China’s economic growth rate of 5.4% in 2023, but it slowed to 4.6% due to continued weakness in the real estate sector and expected weaker export demand.

“Due to rising costs and a grim economic outlook, Chinese people may not even choose to spend money on travel,” Tan said.

Collins Chong Yew Keat of the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur expressed a similar opinion on China’s domestic issues, criticizing the visa-free incentives and saying that the Malaysian government’s plans to reform the economic landscape are “big picture”. “This is a middle-income trap,” he said. .

“It will perpetuate the country’s trap of continued over-reliance on China, where it is most easily realized for short-term gains in tourism and capital,” he said.

Instead, Mr Chong said visa-free entry would allow for legitimate and strategic investments, as well as talented people and people in targeted sectors that do not pose a direct competition or risk to Malaysia’s economic and security interests. It should be prioritized only if it attracts significant capital.

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