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Chinese Tourists Shun Malaysia

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The controversy surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has prompted many Chinese tourists, who once saw Malaysia as an attractive leisure destination, to look elsewhere.

Eleven Chinese travel agents told Reuters news agency that bookings between China and Malaysia had fallen severely, and that many people have cancelled their trips, amid anger at the perceived lack of information provided by the Malaysian government to passengers' families.

"We used to have 30 to 40 customers a month for group tours to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Now there is no one asking about this route or booking," one travel agent said.

"Tourists don't even consider going there. Many also have a negative impression of the country now," he said.

In Beijing, angry relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane protested on Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy, demanding an explanation from the airline and accusing the government in Kuala Lumpur of "delays and deception".

"The Malaysian government deliberately delayed publicizing real information about the flight. We should punish this completely irresponsible attitude and boycott Malaysian tourism," said a user of Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

"Originally I was considering traveling in Malaysia this year, now I think their country is so disgusting," wrote another microblogger. "They lied to everyone for half a month."

The slowdown in Chinese travel could hurt Malaysia's goal of boosting tourism, though the impact on the economy may be limited. Chinese tourist arrivals account for about 12 percent of Malaysia's total tourist numbers and 0.4 percent of the country's gross domestic product, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.

Malaysia has targeted 28 million tourists this year and MYR76 billion ringgit (USD$23 billion) in receipts.

Some Chinese travel agencies have cancelled group trips to Malaysia and stopped promoting cut-price tickets for fear of angering customers.

"The Malaysia Airlines incident involves national sentiment. If we go against the trend now, I'm afraid it will be provocative," said a travel agent.

According to an online poll on Sina's news website, 77.5 percent of more than 21,000 participants said the MH370 furore would influence their decision on traveling in Malaysia.

Malaysian tourism minister Nazri Aziz said on Monday that "Visit Malaysia Year" roadshows in China would be halted until the MH370 case is closed.

(Reuters)