THOUSANDS of Chinese nationals have cancelled their holidays in Malaysia because of the smoke enveloping the country, said the Malaysia Inbound Chinese Association (Mica).
“More than 100 tour groups from China, Hong Kong and Macau have decided to cancel their trips here in September and October,” Mica president Angie Ng told The Malaysian Insight.
“These groups decided to divert to Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand as a result of the smoke.”
With each tour group averaging 20 to 30 travellers, Malaysia stands to lose thousands in arrivals from China and millions in tourist dollars.
According to Tourism Malaysia, the average Chinese tourist to Malaysia spends RM4,411.
“The impact is disastrous, although some tour groups have had enough time to cancel. Others are not so fortunate, and they had to continue with the tourists complaining,” said Ng.
She said these groups could not cancel their trips as the airlines would not refund the ticket bookings.
Ng, who heads EZT Travel Tours and Travel Sdn Bhd, said 70 to 80 travel agencies suffered a 20% drop in business due to cancellations.
October is a popular travel period for Chinese due to the week-long holiday in China in conjunction with its National Day on October 1.
Ng said the majority of Malaysia’s popular destinations, whether islands on the east coast of the peninsula or national parks in Borneo, are outdoor attractions, and the most that tour agents can do is distribute masks to clients.
“We can’t swap outdoor attractions, like the National Monument, for indoor activities. Furthermore, there’s no point taking them to KL Tower if they can’t see anything because of the thick smoke.”
As for the overall impact, she said, travel agencies are still assessing the damage due to cancellations.
Malaysia Budget Hotel Association president Emmy Suraya Hussein said small- and medium-sized hotels in the Klang Valley have not been affected much.
“There has only been a 2% drop in (hotel bookings) in island destinations, such as Langkawi and Penang.
“There have been no cancellations for government, corporate and foreign-business bookings. Only some seaside hotels in Langkawi and Penang have seen cancellations.”
She said even though Sarawak has been the most affected by the choking smoke, the booking rates of small- and medium-sized hotels in the state have not changed drastically.
Thousands of schools have been shuttered across Malaysia and Indonesia, affecting at least 1.7 million pupils, as toxic smoke from raging forest fires pollutes the air.
Jakarta has deployed water-bombing aircraft and thousands of security forces personnel to tackle the blazes, most of which were illegally started to clear land for plantations.
According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, there were 73,508 hotspots detected in Indonesia and Malaysia as of September 16.
Its satellite monitoring system showed that 72% of the hotspots were in Kalimantan, with Jambi and Southern Sumatra contributing 11% each.
Schools in several states across Malaysia were closed for a few days as their areas’ air pollutant index (API) readings, issued by the Environment Department, breached the “very unhealthy” category.
An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates “good” air quality, “moderate” (51-100), “unhealthy” (101-200), “very unhealthy” (201-300) and “hazardous” (301 upwards).