Zero-cost tours must stop: Malaysian minister

By By Jennifer Welker /
18 March 2003

HONG KONG - Zero-cost tour practices are on the rebound out of China, and Malaysia's tourism minister has set out to stop them, and rejuvenate genuine interest in his country.

"There is a tendency to bring down costs lower and lower. Thousands of people from China are travelling to various countries at zero cost. This is very dangerous. How can you send people to a destination for free? There must be a hidden agenda," Minister of Culture, Arts & Tourism of Malaysia, Dato' Paduka Abdul Kadir bin Hj Sheikh Fadzir said.

Last week, Dato' Paduka met with the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), and the two sides agreed to set a minimum price for tours to Malaysia. No minimum price has been fixed or deadline set for the pricing as yet.

"We will leave that to the private sector," he said.

"When I go back to Malaysia, I will contact our counterparts such as Thailand and others to go against the trend that is emerging again. In Malaysia, we will go straight to the heart of the problem and cancel their licenses or take them to court."

Dato' Paduka said he already worked with the CNTA two years ago in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province to organize a conference specifically tackling the problem of zero-cost tours.

While the message of the dangers of zero-cost tours was driven home to some operators, it didn't reach them all. "We reached an agreement against it two years ago, and it did stop for a while. But now it is encroaching back into the scene. If one company practices it, other companies have no choice but to follow, or they lose out on business," he said.

He says these operators justify zero-cost tours by saying that people go and spend money at their own will when they reach the destination.

This is not 'forced' shopping, they contend.

Meanwhile, travel to Malaysia dipped last year from Hong Kong and grew only by a marginal four percent out of China. Dato' Paduka says Malaysia is banking on one million visitors from both China and Hong Kong this year.

"This is an achievable forecast and we are working with tour operators to create new packages, offering more choices."

Morning Star Travel General Manager, Cheang Yoon Hoong said Malaysia travel bookings through his company declined by 10 percent in 2002 over 2001, and one of the main reasons is people tend to go to Thailand one year and Malaysia another. 2001 was such a good year, Morning Star sent between 30-40,000 people (tour groups and FITs) to Malaysia. They could even afford to charter an extra 5,000 seats during the Lunar New Year.

But that was not a trend to continue in 2002 nor in 2003, where concerns of war and a sluggish economy have prompted people to stay home.

Despite the decline in travel, Tourism Malaysia voted Morning Star the "Best Foreign Tour Operator" for a second time this year, and Cheang says his company will be even more aggressive in its promotions of Malaysia to the Hong Kong market through television 'travelogues'; roadshows and events at strategic locations throughout Hong Kong this year.