THE NUMBER of foreign tourist arrivals to Malaysia is expected to reach 5 million by the end of this year, according to the country’s largest travel and tourism association.

The easing of restrictions since April 1 and a new surge in international travel put the industry in a good position to recover, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Tan Kok Liang told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

“We recorded around 1 million arrivals since the government lifted restrictions related to international tourism visits. Of all those arrivals, around 600,000 of them came from neighboring countries, Singapore,” he said.

He added that nevertheless, we are optimistic because countries from the European Union (EU), Australia, Japan, India and other ASEAN countries have given very positive responses and we feel that the 5 million figure will be achieved easily.

Meanwhile Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that his country would move into the endemic phase of the pandemic and reopen its borders to international travelers from April 1, in part to ease pressure on the country’s economy.

The decision was made because of the success of the COVID-19 national immunization campaign and represents an exit strategy to allow Malaysians to return to almost normal lives after two years of battling COVID-19.

However, Tan said the tourism sector still faces challenges, especially labor shortages after two years of disruption and other problems finding foreign workers.

“This has also been mentioned by Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Nancy Shukri, who is working with us to raise these issues and find solutions. The shortage of labor is very concerning because it can affect the ability of hotels, restaurants and other labor-intensive businesses,” said Tan.

He explained, but we believe that as the situation continues to improve, we will experience normalization and the sector will finally be able to resume from where it was before the pandemic began, even if it takes time.

According to data from Tourism Malaysia, an agency under the ministry, Malaysia recorded 26.1 million arrivals in 2019, accounting for 86.1 billion ringgit (1 ringgit = IDR3,312). That number fell to 4.33 million arrivals in 2020 when the pandemic broke out and only 130,000 arrivals in 2021. [sources/photo special]