Malaysia may lose upwards of $1 billion in tourism revenue as Chinese travel websites begin to boycott Malaysia Airlines over missing Flight 370. The renewed hostility has triggered a backlash by Malaysians who are frustrated with China’s antagonism towards their government over the tragedy.
The $1 billion statistic comes from the news that two travel websites in China–Qunar and ELong– have announced they will no longer allow customers to buy tickets to Malaysia Airlines flights through their service. ELong explained on its Weibo social media account that their decision was a direct response to the Malaysian government’s handling of the search for Flight 370, which they called “shocking” and “outrageous.” The company is also paying $16,250 to the families of two passengers on the flight who used ELong to purchase their tickets. The South China Morning Post reported that travel agencies in China have already seen a “sharp drop” in tourism to Malaysia in the two weeks since the plane went missing.
Malaysia Airlines had not been faring well economically before Flight 370 disappeared, and the threat of hundreds of lawsuits has some speculating whether the airline will be able to recover from the tragedy at all. While the government has a stake in promoting the airline for tourism revenue purposes, it is a private company and may be nationalized to save the brand.
The attacks on Malaysia as a country have triggered a backlash among nationals who fail to understand how the protests before the Malaysian embassy or routine antagonizing of their country by Chinese officials will help the mourning process. The New York Times reported Friday that many Malaysians on social media and those interviewed expressed some outrage at the level of blame, particularly during a time when the nation is in mourning. Others attacked China directly, noting it “has one of the world’s most opaque governments.” One Malaysian interviewed said that “the general view of my friends is that we are shocked that they are biased against Malaysians.”
Some in the Malaysian media have begun to chime in. The Malay Times ran the headline “Malaysia Under Siege” over protests from China and elsewhere, lamenting that “the negative reports that have besieged our country over this air crash have given the impression that we are no more than just a despot state.” While the paper did not mention China specifically, it demanded: “Countries whom we call friends must now do more to prove their friendship.” To make the point even clearer, the paper also emphasized reaction from other nations to downplay the outrage from China, with one report noting that India had “expressed deep appreciation” to the Malaysian government for its work.
Australian officials, who have been collaborating heavily with both Malaysian and Chinese search teams, announced early Friday that the search more than a thousand miles off the coast of Perth would be shifting almost 700 miles northeast, thanks to a new analysis of radar data. The data indicated that the plane was flying much faster than previously anticipated, which cut short its gas supply. This confirmed that none of the satellite imagery that claimed to show debris potentially linked to the plane actually did so and were, in fact, unrelated to the missing plane.