VOA would also promote greater trade and investments from nationalities that must obtain visas to enter Malaysia.
In his keynote address at the 2023 ASEAN Tourism Forum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing proposed that Malaysia should consider providing Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) for all countries to remain competitive in the global tourism industry.
This facility should have been introduced much earlier as VOA is similar to normal visas that are applied in advance and could be approved or rejected. Even after visas have been issued, entry could still be denied at entry points based on new leads or developments.
Offering VOA facility simply means deploying staff round the clock to process such applications speedily instead of leisurely pace for normal visas. But processing need not be performed at all entry points as this requires many officers. It can be centralised and efficient.
Any country with VOA facility for all countries would certainly boost its foreign visitor arrivals as many affluent people travel overseas at the spur of the moment for leisure or shopping. There are also those who need to travel urgently for business, medical treatment or personal reasons.
It goes without saying that VOA would also promote greater trade and investments from nationalities that must obtain visas to enter Malaysia, and they include citizens from China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and a few other countries.
In fact, these nationalities ought to be granted 14 days’ visa-free entry to Malaysia, just like citizens from Iran and Libya that have long enjoyed this privilege. Are nationalities not granted visa-free entry a greater security risk than those that were granted 14 days’ stay in our country?
Also, there are 95 nationalities that are allowed 30 days visa-free entry to Malaysia and another 56 that could enter our country without visa and stay for up to 90 days. Were citizens of these 161 countries a lesser security threat than those from China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan?
In 2019, Chinese nationals accounted for 3,114,257 tourist arrivals to Malaysia, followed by India with 735,309, Bangladesh 179,000 and Pakistan 105,757, totalling 4,134,323, which is more than the rest of the world combined, excluding those from Asean countries.
Had they been allowed 14 days’ visa-free entry, their arrivals could have been doubled or even tripled. If so, total tourist arrivals could have been 30.2 million or 34.4 million in 2019, instead of 26.1 million. That year, Thailand gladly received 39.9 million foreign tourists.
In 2019, China tourists spent RM15.3 billion in Malaysia. If their numbers were doubled, we could have earned RM30.6 billion, or RM45.9 billion if tripled. That year, 155 million outbound China tourists spent US$254.6 billion globally.
But why are we still dragging our feet to open our doors wider to foreign tourists? Are we still bogged down by legacy issues that are more imaginary than real that other countries have long been consigned to the ash heap of history?
The global economic outlook remains gloomy with a projected negative growth of 2.9 percent this year. It is no surprise that many countries around the world are again competing fiercely for the tourist dollar by being more friendly and welcoming to foreign visitors.
We have already lost billions of ringgit in the past by maintaining the same stance on certain nationalities. While national security is paramount, it should be pursued with moderation, as it is also our national interest to prosper our country for the wellbeing of all our citizens.
The views expressed here are strictly those of YS Chan from Kuala Lumpur.