Malaysia maintains tourism target, bets on locals and non-Chinese visitors

By Liz Lee

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Malaysia expects to meet its target of a record 30 million tourists this year by redirecting its marketing efforts to local and other markets as arrivals from coronavirus-hit China fall, a tourism official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The epidemic comes at a bad time, as the country is pushing its "Visit Malaysia 2020" programme to rev up its stuttering economy, Southeast Asia's third-largest. Tourism accounts for 11.8% of Malaysia's gross domestic product, with 28 million arrivals last year, 11% of them from China, according to data.

While numbers on tourist arrivals for January aren't yet available, Malaysia has imposed a temporary ban on visitors from Chinese provinces placed on lockdown by the Chinese government, in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Malaysia has reported 22 confirmed cases so far.

"If we push for more efforts to encourage travel amongst Malaysians within our shores, we have hope to stimulate our economy and hence, counter the losses due to the decline in foreign tourists," said Musa Yusof, director-general of government agency Tourism Malaysia.

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He said the agency also had a "quick win" strategy of ramping up promotions in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia.

According to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), tourists from fellow Southeast Asian countries and India are some of the other big contributors to the visitors tally.

(Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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