by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK/ pic by ARIF KARTONO
TOURISTS arrivals especially from China have taken a hit as the prolonged haze sweeps a large part of the country and heightening health risks force foreigners to shun the region.
Many parts of the country continue to register poor visibility while health cases due to the haze spike as authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia struggle to put out forest fires, the main cause of the smog.
Local tour operators are already registering a drop in tourists arrivals with visitors from China already recording a 20% slump.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) inbound and domestic VP Jimmy Thoo said the worsening air quality has affected the number of inbound tourists, including the likelihood of flight booking cancellations.
“Some inbound agents claimed to have experienced a 20% drop in customers from China (due to the haze),” he told The Malaysian Reserve.
Thoo said previous haze incidents did not have the same negative impact to tourists arrivals from China.
The haze has disrupted flights, limited the movement of travellers and forced many to stay indoors.
Malaysia Inbound Chinese Association president Angie Ng was also quoted as saying that over 100 Chinese tour groups opted to divert their holiday plans to Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.
Chinese tourist cancellations could cost Malaysia millions in revenue. During the JanuaryJune 2019 period, 1.55 million tourists from China arrived in the country, making the world’s most populous nation Malaysia’s third-largest tourist market. During the same period last year, 1.46 million visitors from the world’s second-largest economy arrived in Malaysia.
Official figures from the authorities showed the receipts from Chinese tourists reached RM7.08 billion for the January-June 2019 period, 22.5% higher than RM5.78 billion recorded in the corresponding period last year.
China is the second-largest contributor to Malaysia’s tourism receipts, according to Tourism Malaysia’s figures.
Deputy Malaysian Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said while other SouthEast Asian countries are affected by the crisis, it has not affected the arrival of tourists into Malaysia.
Matta deputy president Mohd Akil Yusof said while it is hard to quantify exactly the decline of tourist arrivals as the official figures will only be released later, the association’s members are already receiving booking cancellations on a daily basis.
“We see cancellations almost every day, especially tourists from our neighbouring countries or markets who make last-minute travel arrangements.
“I guess there should be a drop in (the number of tourists) arrivals as well. I hope this will end once the haze is gone,” he said.
Meanwhile, a local news portal stated that tourism activities in Johor were dense in indoor areas due to the haze, and despite the poor air quality, tourist arrivals to the state from Singapore remained high.
Based on the Malaysian Air Pollutant Index Management System, the hourly table showed that the API reading in Kuala Lumpur had dropped to 94, which was considered a moderate level, as of 3pm yesterday. The highest recorded API reading was 208 on Sept 19.