Malaysian Tourism Dives as Missing Plane Search Continues

Malaysian Tourism Dives as Missing Plane Search Continues

As the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, with more leads in sight, local newspaper the New Straits Times reports that the country is suffering a significant drop in tourism due to publicity surrounding the missing plane.

The New Straits Times spoke to Malaysia’s Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, who said that the Malaysian government was concerned by the number of flights from China to Malaysia that have been canceled in the wake of MH370’s disappearance. While “we were doing well for January and February,” he told the paper, “the MH370 incident has definitely affected our tourism.”

Mohamed Nazri added that Malaysia was canceling some tourism promotional campaigns, set to air in China to attract tourists, out of respect for the relatives of those missing. “So long as there is no closure to MH370, I do not see the suitability of us continuing the campaign in China,” he stated. He noted also that he would make a visit to the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia “as a mark of respect” for those missing.

The Tourism and Culture Minister’s comments are not consistent with other reports appearing in Malaysian media that claim that tourism has been unharmed by the incident. One report in Free Malaysia Today noted that some online tour planning websites in China had banned Malaysia Airlines from their servers, but that interviews with individuals working at travel agencies suggest that “business as usual” reigns in the industry. 

CNN also reported that the previously aggressive tone which Chinese officials used against Malaysia at the beginning of the search seems to have faded, with some officials distinguishing themselves from the angrier comments by relatives of those on the missing flight. That Malaysian officials are canceling tourism promotions and are eager to discuss the situation with Chinese officials, however, appears to indicate a certain level of concern that the damage to Malaysia’s tourism industry has only just begun.

The struggle to convince Chinese tourists that Malaysia is a safe and quality vacation destination continues and extends even beyond assurances that Malaysia Airlines is safe. Adding yet another wrinkle in the relationship between China and Malaysia, Malaysian officials have yet to solve a crime at a resort in which a Chinese tourist was kidnapped.

Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers have been among the most vocal critics of the Malaysian government. They have alleged–and reporters have documented–that the Malaysian government kept those in Kuala Lumpur away from the media for fear of embarrassing comments. Those in Beijing took to the streets to protest, the first such political assembly in a long time permitted and protected by the Chinese government.

With tourism woes continuing to loom over the nation, the news from the search for Flight 370 has been more positive than ever this week. After losing an aural signal that searchers believed emanated from a plane’s flight recorder or black box, Australian search organizer Angus Houston announced late Tuesday night that they had rediscovered the signal in the same area, dramatically narrowing the search area. Should the signal continue to appear in the same location, officials are prepared to deploy an unmanned vehicle to the sea floor to search for the black box, and Houston said he was hopeful some debris findings would surface within “days.”