M’sia eyes Chinese Muslim tourists


PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian tourism industry is looking to attract more Chinese Muslim tourists as the country gears up for Visit Malaysia Year 2026, aiming to become a pilgrimage destination in the region.

Recent trends show a significant increase in arrivals from this group, and they will become one of the emerging new markets in Malaysia.

The Islamic Tourism Center of Malaysia (ITC) found that the number of Muslim tourists from China increased significantly last year, reaching 26,534, and is expected to reach 40,172 in the first quarter of 2024.

Nizran Noordin, Director General of ITC, said: “The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture’s efforts, such as promotions specifically targeting the Chinese market, visa easing and enhanced air connectivity, have helped stimulate tourism flows. “

“With the widespread availability of halal food, mosques and prayer rooms in public places, Malaysia has become an extremely tolerant and welcoming destination for Muslim travellers.”

ITC’s role is to assist the ministry through strategic tourism research and market intelligence, and to provide training and capacity building services related to Islamic tourism.

“ITC’s Muslim Friendly Tourism and Hospitality Assurance and Recognition (MFAR) program plays a key role in cementing Malaysia’s position as a preferred Muslim travel destination,” Nizlan said in an interview.

The plan lays out specific guidelines to help tourism industry players position themselves strategically in the Muslim tourism market. He said this would ensure that Islamic customs-compliant services are provided to travelers.

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The MFAR guidance currently applies to two schemes – tourist accommodation establishments and tourism operating businesses. “ITC will soon prepare guidelines for eight other schemes, namely spas and wellness centres, medical facilities, transport hubs, tourism products, shopping malls, theme and entertainment parks, rest and relaxation areas (R&R) and trade and conference centres,” He said.

Nizran added that the ITC aims to involve more industry players in the MFAR program to strengthen the tourism ecosystem and called on government agencies and travel agencies to provide inputs to meet specific market needs.

“Tourists often spend a large portion of their budgets on shopping, which creates ample opportunities for businesses to cater to Muslim tourists’ demand for consumer goods. These include Muslim fashion and sportswear, cosmetics, personal care products and halal pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Nizlan also said that Muslim travelers, especially young people, have a strong interest in local culture.

“This provides an opportunity for tourism participants to develop customized itineraries that emphasize local experiences, such as cooking classes showcasing local cuisine, herb garden tours and other interactive activities,” he said.

A recent study tour of imams in China received positive feedback, highlighting Malaysia’s hospitality and ability to meet the needs of Muslims.

“China remains a strategic market with a Muslim population of 30 million. The Malaysian Inbound Chinese Association (Mica) has partnered with ITC to develop travel packages suitable for Muslim tourists,” Nizran added. He said the ITC will also enhance the capabilities of 211 tour guides through specialized training to make them Muslim-friendly travel guides.

Nizlan also talked about the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia this year.

“The time is right to enter this market. The Chinese market is huge and ITC hopes to encourage more tourism industry players to explore the potential and opportunities,” he added.

Since the launch of the Global Muslim Travel Index in 2015, Malaysia has topped the list.

In addition, Mica President Datuk Dr. Angie Ng said that Chinese Muslim tourists deeply appreciate Malaysia’s Muslim culture, food, shopping and Ramadhan experience.

She said they came to Malaysia to experience different Muslim food cultures, including the more than 200 kinds of pastries offered at the hotel’s Ramadan buffet.

“In Negeri Sembilan, they were surprised by the sheep head dish, which offers a completely different flavour.

“One tourist said that during his week-long stay, he went to a different hotel every day to try various halal dishes,” Wu said, adding that Chinese Muslim tourists are attracted by the stunning mosque architecture here. “They also love our beaches and they like to buy colorful traditional Malay clothing as gifts for family and friends,” she added.

Malaysian Hotels Association president Datin Christine Toh said as the market booms, the hotel industry will continue to enhance its facilities to meet the growing demand of Muslim tourists.

“Part of our requirements for star-rated hotels include having at least one halal-certified shop with a Qibla sign,” she said, adding that some hotels can convert conference rooms into prayer rooms, while others offer access to Shuttle service to nearby mosques.

Zhuo Ye said that the number of Chinese tourists, including independent travelers, is increasing due to visa-free entry and improved transportation convenience.

To break down language barriers, she said, with advancements in artificial intelligence and mobile technology, information can be easily translated to help travelers.

“Malaysia’s reputation as a Muslim-friendly destination is well established,” she added.


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