Visa-free travel opens 'big door' to region

Updated: Feb 19, 2024 By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong and YANG WANLI in Bangkok CHINA DAILY Print
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People go sightseeing on tricycles in Penang, Malaysia, on Nov 8. XINHUA

Attracting more visitors

Maybank Investment Bank forecast that among ASEAN countries, tourist arrivals will likely be closest to pre-pandemic levels in Malaysia thanks to its visa waivers for Chinese and Indian tourists and the weaker ringgit, which is also attracting more visitors from neighboring Singapore.

The Kuala Lumpur-based lender said visa waivers for Chinese travels would also increase tourist arrivals in Singapore, noting that the city-state is popular with Chinese tourists due to its cultural familiarity, strong safety record and "close people ties". Ethnic Chinese account for over 70 percent of Singapore's 5.6 million people.

Maybank sees a slightly slower recovery in the tourism industries of Vietnam and Indonesia. Both countries have not yet granted visa waivers for Chinese and Indian tourists, but authorities are mulling the move.

The Chinese market has long been the biggest source of tourists for ASEAN countries — as the region is not only geographically close but has strong cultural and economic ties with China. In the first half of 2023,China was the largest source of non-ASEAN visitors to the region, accounting for 8.2 percent of the 46.5 million arrivals, according to the latest data from the ASEAN Secretariat.

The Singapore-based ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office said in its January report that tourism boosted ASEAN's service exports in 2023.

"Reflecting seasonal factors as well as the gradual return of Chinese tourists, ASEAN+3 visitor arrivals have stabilized at around 80 percent of their pre-pandemic levels between September and November," the office said.

The ASEAN+3 group includes China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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