As Malaysia responds to the recent spike in Covid-19 infections by re-entering lockdown, leading tourism sector representatives have issued an S.O.S to the government, demanding a clear roadmap for recovery, interim financial support and the promise of hope beyond the horizon.
Nigel Wong is the Honorary Secretary-General at the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA). He believes a roadmap is essential to industry recovery. “The tourism sector is still a long way off from recovery and will not fully begin the recovery process until both domestic and international borders are reopened,” said Mr Wong in a statement on 24th May. “Hence, MATTA is urging the government to come up with a tourism recovery roadmap.” Mr Wong added that striking a balance between saving lives and livelihoods is crucial in order for the nation to continue its journey to recovery post-pandemic.
The Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) has appealed to government officials, imploring them to follow the examples of neighbouring countries and key international source markets in their response to the dual considerations of Covid-19 safety and tourism industry survival. MITA believes the solution lies in travel bubbles, opened in stages following the lifting of lockdown by Malaysia’s National Security Council (MKN), with travel bookings made through approved travel agents.
“We need to initiate a sandbox (experiment) where we can test specific destinations, such as Qatar-Malaysia, for example, before opening up to other destinations,” said MITA president Uzaidi Udanis in a press conference via Zoom on 18th May. “At the same time, we should also look at allowing vaccinated tourists to visit Malaysia without having to go through a quarantine period from October onwards, with compulsory bookings through travel agents,” he added.
Malaysia’s tourism industry has suffered losses of over RM100 billion since the beginning of the pandemic. Arrivals fell by 83.4% in 2020, while tourism receipts also dropped by 85.3%, from RM86.14 billion in 2019 to just RM12.69 billion last year. The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) has reported losses of over RM6.53 billion for the year 2020; for every two weeks the Movement Control Order (MCO) remains in place, hotels in Malaysia suffer an estimated RM300 million in lost revenue.
Despite the hardships experienced by many in the tourism sector, representatives have also expressed their support for stricter controls, with total lockdown seem as the only way to curb infection and wipe the slate clean. To help support tourism operators during these challenging times, MITA is pushing for zero-interest loans and tax waivers for key tourism infrastructure – such as interstate transportation – over the next three years.
Both MITA and MATTA, along with various other key partners, such as the Malaysian Hotel Association and the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers, continue to work closely with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and its related agencies, in a bid to weather the storm and plot Malaysia’s course towards recovery.