Time To Revive And Rebuild The Tourism Industry

MP SPEAKS | Visit Malaysia 2020 was the dream of local tourism players for our nation, to have its largest number of visitors through multiple strategic promotions and partnerships
The stage was set for all of this to happen by having the entire industry on board the vision of bringing in a total of 30 million tourists to Malaysia
Most businesses even spent additional budget to enhance their premises and services as well as in marketing their products all over the world
Then, the unthinkable happened in the form of a virus, Covid-19
With the increasing number of Covid-19 infections and deaths, the government took a bold step in announcing the movement control order (MCO), freezing the movements of all Malaysians and closure of businesses
It took almost two months before most businesses were allowed to operate again
This too with the conditional MCO that came with restrictions to interstate travelling
This has caused the tourism industry to suffer greatly with high investments made and no returns
Albeit some of the hotels being used as quarantine centres, many hotel operators have made drastic measures to save themselves from complete closure
Airlines and big online travel agencies such as Agoda and Airbnb have started their downsizing procedures to sustain themselves until the borders reopen
Which raises the fundamental question, how do we save them all from dying? Or at least, the majority of them
We need to innovate in how we present products and services while incorporating the new norms of Covid-19
While Malaysia has done an extremely great job in containing the spread of the pandemic, we could further explore how other nations have dealt with the situation
1. One very interesting approach is how Germany has restarted its Bundesliga campaign with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place
Despite football being a contact sport, they were able to do this with a no-compromising approach to ensure that the entire staff of each of the football teams being screened for Covid-19 and closing the stadium to avoid people from crowding into one enclosed area
Since then, the Barclays Premier League has followed suit with plans to resume their season on June 16
Similarly, strict protocols can be placed on local hotels, allowing locals to book a staycation to relax with their families
A local player with the name of Lexis Penang has taken up such measures, and this has ended up bearing fruit for them with occupancy rates reaching almost 50 percent
Of course, to entice locals, hoteliers will need to offer discounts and booking vouchers that are valid for a long time
The key to making this a success would lie in keeping the hotels and resorts operating at low density and to ensure social distancing protocols are followed at all times
This would definitely allow the hotels to make a comeback and play an instrumental part in reviving the tourism economy
2. As for interstate travel, we should take note of Sabah’s encouraging stance in allowing people to enter its borders without quarantine enforcement
With Covid-19 screening done within three days before departure to Sabah, they have minimised the risk of a potential outbreak in their state
The Sabah government is also actively promoting its local tourist spots as well as part of its state economy recovery plan
These initiatives could be replicated on a federal level to pave way for the recovery of the tourism industry and by extension, the national economy
Travel should be allowed for those who are from the green zone or states, at least
The northern states of Peninsular Malaysia have so far shown very promising signs of keeping the infection rates at minimal, and residents of these states should be allowed to travel within the green zones
Compulsory Covid-19 screening tests should be enforced for those individuals who are travelling interstate, but there should be considerations taken by the state governments to subsidise the cost of such tests
It will be a rewarding investment in consideration of its returns
Another potential beneficiary would be the airlines which could bundle domestic travels with accommodation packages and regain some momentum that they need very badly
In order to ensure that these measures reach its highest potential, it will be important that the government also introduce travel vouchers or rebates to further encourage locals to travel domestically similar to the efforts that were made in countries like Japan
3. In June, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin mentioned that the government would be handing out grants and loans to tourism businesses, claiming that would be ‘the way’ for them to recover from the pandemic
While it is truly a noble effort, one has to point out that it is a very short-sighted one
Handing out money to businesses and promoting digitalisation does not solve the issue
People have a fear of travelling due to the risk of becoming Covid-19 victims despite all the SOPs that have been established
Although tourism businesses are up and running again, without visitors this initiative won’t survive, especially when many out there are losing their jobs
Instead, travel vouchers should be channelled directly to Malaysians
Businesses will gain when Malaysians utilise the travel vouchers
The difference here is that with the travel vouchers, you are encouraging Malaysians to go out and travel domestic safely
This will slowly create a positive momentum when those who travel share their experiences through social media platforms and in the long run, make Malaysians feel safe travelling
4. While domestic travels will contribute to the partial recovery of the tourism industry, it is imperative that we take proactive measures to entice international tourism back into Malaysia
In ensuring that we are able to create a significant market impact, we will need to work closely with our neighbours such as Thailand and Vietnam that have very low Covid-19 infections and deaths
A ‘travel bubble’ is a possible solution that we could consider adapting from the initiative taken between New Zealand and Australia, Lithuania and Estonia, and China and Singapore
This could be a test market and with positive trends, we could expand the travel bubble to countries that are in recovery phases such as New Zealand, China and South Korea
The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture will have to play an essential role in ensuring these suggestions come to fruition
It will be their duty to bring Tourism Malaysia and private agencies to work symbiotically with the vision of reviving the nation’s tourism economy
While the government could provide the funds required for subsidies and provide tax exemptions as well as grants, it is the private agencies that need to step up and help the industry digitalise its offerings regardless of the size of businesses
Not forgetting that we need to urge the locals to join our cause of reviving the tourism industry by travelling domestically
All these in the hopes of making Malaysia great again
MUHAMMAD BAKHTIAR WAN CHIK is Balik Pulau member of Parliament and former deputy minister of tourism, arts and culture. - Mkini

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