Malaysia Seeks Extension of Visa Waiver with China to Boost Tourism

malaysia china

As the one-year visa waiver program between Malaysia and China nears its halfway point, there’s a strong push from key stakeholders to extend the initiative past its December expiration. The Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) and other industry leaders have observed significant benefits from the policy, sparking a discussion on making the visa exemption permanent to sustain tourism growth.

Positive Impacts from the Visa Waiver

Since the policy’s implementation five months ago, MITA president Mint Leong has reported a notable increase in Chinese tourists, particularly Free Independent Travelers (FITs), who have greatly benefitted the Malaysian tourism sector. Cities like Kuala Lumpur and Sabah have seen a marked rise in visitors, with Sabah experiencing an uptick in direct and chartered flights from major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, especially during significant festivals and holidays.

“The mutual visa exemption policy has already shown its value, and making it permanent could secure a continuous increase in tourist arrivals from China,” Leong stated in an interview with The Star.


Competitive Stakes in Regional Tourism

Leong emphasized that Malaysia needs to maintain its competitive edge in the regional tourism market, noting that neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore have established long-term visa-free agreements with China. The potential loss of market share to these nations could impact Malaysia’s tourism industry if the visa waiver is not extended.

Economic Benefits and Mutual Interest

The Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) also supports the extension. MCCC president Loo Kok Seong suggested that promoting Malaysian tourist destinations during peak seasons, such as the durian season aligning with China’s summer holidays, could further boost visitor numbers.

In addition, Loo advocated for a reciprocal arrangement whereby Malaysians could enjoy a 30-day visa-free entry into China, which could further enhance bilateral tourism and economic exchanges.

Boost in Hotel Occupancy and Independent Travel

The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) has observed a surge in hotel occupancy rates since the visa waiver was introduced, with a significant contribution from both traditional tour groups and FITs. MAH president Datin Christina Toh highlighted the increasing use of digital platforms like Xiaohongshu by tech-savvy Chinese tourists to plan their travels, which supports a trend towards more authentic, self-guided tourist experiences.

Towards a Permanent Visa-Free Agreement

Both Malaysia and China are reportedly in discussions to establish a permanent reciprocal visa-free policy. Such a move would not only cement the ongoing growth in tourism but also strengthen cultural exchanges between the two countries. With a target to attract five million Chinese visitors in 2024, the continuation of this policy could be crucial for Malaysia’s post-pandemic recovery in the tourism sector.

The success of the current visa waiver program, highlighted by significant increases in visitor numbers and economic benefits, makes a compelling case for its extension. As stakeholders rally for this change, the upcoming months will be critical in shaping the future of Malaysia-China travel relations and the broader economic impacts associated with sustained tourism growth.

Compare listings