KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Tourists from China used to visit South-east Asian countries like Malaysia in large tour groups, but that was before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Their preferences appear to have changed to smaller sized groups, and Malaysian tour operators, like others in the region, are ready to cater to these tourists whom they had pegged as big spenders, more so after being stuck inside their home country for the past three years.
“It’s not like before Covid when we would need a few buses for each group,” Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis told the South China Morning Post.
He said Mita members have received multiple inquiries and more specific requests from these Chinese globe trekkers for private tours and tailored itineraries.
These include tour arrangements for groups numbering fewer than 20 people on average, as well as outdoor activities such as jungle trekking and deep-sea sport fishing.
“One of our members received a request from a swimming club asking if they could arrange for them to swim in the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea. They said they wanted to experience swimming in the open sea, because they have never experienced it living in China’s interior,” he was quoted saying in an article published today by the Hong Kong-based news outlet’s “This Week in Asia” section.
Based on the inquiries made to Mita's members, Uzaidi was reported saying that Malaysia estimates one million tourist arrivals from China who are expected to spend RM1.5 billion (US$341 million) in the country.
“We just hope our tourism players can keep up with the new trend and accommodate these kinds of new requests, especially focused on sports, adventure and eco-tourism,” he was quoted saying.
Tourism is a key source of income in Malaysia and accounted for 6.8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.
Earlier this month, UOB Global Economics & Market Research said Malaysia's number of international tourist arrivals at 26.1 million in 2019 was the second-highest ever since yearly data became available in 1981.
A check by Malay Mail of Tourism Malaysia's figures showed that Malaysia had enjoyed as many as 26.7 million international tourists arrivals in 2016, followed by 25.9 million (2017), 25.8 million (2018), 26.1 million (2019), but that this slowed down during the pandemic to just 4.3 million in 2020 and 134,728 in 2021.
Tourism Malaysia's data showed Malaysia also saw its international tourists spending around RM82 billion here in 2016 and 2017, RM84.1 billion in 2018 and RM86.1 billion in 2019, before it plunged to over RM12.68 billion in 2020 and RM238.7 million in 2021.
Tourists from China to Malaysia once numbered 3.1 million in 2019, but fell to 405,149 in 2020, and only 7,701 in 2021, the latest publicly-available Tourism Malaysia data showed.
China tourists accounted for RM15.3 billion of the total RM86.1 billion tourist receipts for Malaysia in 2019.
On January 22, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing said his ministry is targeting five million tourist arrivals from China for this year, with this target set after China's move to reopen its borders on January 8 after three years of Covid-19 travel restrictions.