Malaysian prime minister Mohd Najib Abdul Razak last Friday presented the national budget for 2018, unveiling a RM2 billion (US$471.5 million) component for the SME Tourism Fund, which provides soft loans to eligible tour operators with an interest subsidy of two per cent, among other tourism sector allocations.
Apart from the SME Tourism Fund, RM500 million has been set aside for the development and promotion of tourism through infrastructure upgrades, as well as marketing for homestay and eco-tourism programmes.
Other highlights include expanding eVisa regional hub by facilitating visa application worldwide, especially for expatriates, foreign students and the Malaysia My Second Home programme; and allocating RM250 million to the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to enhance security controls at Sabah and Sarawak borders, including RM50 million for coastal surveillance radar.
Notably, the government has also allocated RM30 million to the Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council. Among other purposes, funds will go towards promoting Malaysia as the Asian Hub for Fertility Treatment and introducing the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital programme, which offers special incentives for private hospitals to attract medical tourists.
Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), CEO, Sherene Azli, commented: “We welcome the allocation and are excited with the budget announcement to spur further growth of the medical tourism industry. Since 2011, the industry has shown tremendous potential recording a double-digit annual growth, ranging between 16-17 per cent every year. In 2016, the healthcare travel industry grew by 23 per cent from 2015, compared to the average growth rate of 15 per cent from 2011-2015.”
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents’ (MATTA) president, KL Tan, said the tourism allocations answer MATTA’s calls for continued incentives for inbound and domestic tour operators to help new and small players, many of which are Bumiputera companies.
“MATTA had proposed for funding for capacity building in the travel sector and RM2 billion was allocated to SMEs for training programmes, grants and soft loans under SME Corporation Malaysia. (Also), the allocation for infrastructure development will strengthen rural tourism and homestay, including eco-tourism facilities like jetties, toilets and signages.”
He further expressed optimism that the expansion of the eVisa regional hub, Malaysia “is certain to attract more visitors from countries with access to this facility”, and that airport expansion would bring greater comfort and convenience to travellers.
“As safety and security are paramount, allocating RM250 million to ESSCOM is essential for the safety and security of tourism and economic activities in the East Coast of Sabah, which is currently experiencing an influx of China tourists, especially to Semporna,” he added.