KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government is promoting a program to invite long-term visitors from overseas, chiefly targeting Japanese retirees, to revitalize a tourism industry hard hit by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) earlier this year.
The program announced in May, called "Malaysia My Second Home," is a strengthened and expanded version of a program the government introduced seven years ago to promote the tourism industry.
Due to SARS, the number of visitors to Malaysia between January and May dropped about 27% from the year before to 3.9 million.
Under the new program, also designed for economic growth, overseas visitors can stay in Malaysia for five years if applicants deposit 150,000 ringgit (about 4.5 million yen) at local banks.
Up to 2001, such applicants numbered 700, and last year they totaled 701.
From January to May this year, there were 432 applicants.
Singaporeans and Britons top the list of applicants, but Japanese applicants are increasing by nearly 40 a year, government officials said.
"Especially, we would like to invite more pensioners from Japan," said Abdul Kadir, minister in charge of culture, arts and tourism.
Keigo Sakamoto, 63, and his wife Kazuko, 58, moved from Hitachi-naka in Ibaraki Prefecture northeast of Tokyo, to the Cameron Highlands, said to be Karuizawa of Malaysia, in June this year.
Karuizawa is a famous summer resort northwest of Tokyo.
The couple has rented an apartment of about 100 square meters for 1,500 ringgit (45,000 yen) a month and are enjoying a comfortable life playing golf and talking to local people.
"We wanted to feel a different culture. We would like to stay in Malaysia for at least two years and extend our journeys to other parts of the country and Thailand," Sakamoto said.
According to the Long-Stay Foundation of Tokyo, which is surveying long stays overseas, Malaysia is ranked 10th in the list of countries where Japanese want stay, but it is top in Asia.
Low prices, good security, favorable weather, tasty food, and Malays, Chinese and Indians living together is behind its popularity, a foundation official said.
The Tourism Bureau is trying to popularize the program among Japanese through its offices in Tokyo and Osaka, but there are complaints that application procedures are hard to understand and take time, a task it has to tackle, said a bureau official. (Kyodo News)