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China visa-free scheme spurs hope for Malaysian travel boom, more business: ‘I hope the numbers will be better’

More Malaysians are expected to fly to Asian holiday destinations such as Japan and Thailand later this year, while China also hopes to bolster weak tourist numbers from Southeast Asia that have yet to escape the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

China last week agreed to double the time frame for visa-free access for Malaysian citizens to 30 days to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations, according to Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The move followed an earlier decision by China to extend its visa-free policy for Malaysian citizens to the end of 2025.

“With the new announcement, I hope the numbers will be better,” said Adam Kamal Ahmad Kamil, general manager of Suka Travel & Tours, which manages Muslim-friendly overseas holidays with a focus on China.

“There is [growing demand], especially with the current pattern for the Muslim market. They go for packages below 5,000 ringgit [US$1,058], and China definitely fits in that category.”

Malaysians have been on a travelling spree in the last year, spending an estimated US$11.1 billion abroad in 2023, according to data compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, as they racked up record numbers at favoured destinations in Southeast Asia.

Rising interest in China travel is a recent development among Malaysia’s Malay-Muslims, who make up nearly 60 per cent of the country’s 33 million population.

Prior to China’s decision last December to allow Malaysians visa-free travel, people “were still sceptical” of China, Adam said without elaborating, adding that his firm had since handled tour groups in the “double digits” this year after seeing zero demand in 2023.

The United Nations in 2022 accused China of “crimes against humanity”