Melaka’s tourist footfall drops, thousands of bookings cancelled

The state govt now has to hatch out plans that could divert the focus to other markets, including Indonesia, Brunei and Saudi Arabia

by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE Covid-19 scare is very real in Melaka, which is currently experiencing a drastic dip in tourists footfall with thousands of cancellations in hotel bookings recorded.

Melaka Tourism, Heritage and Culture executive committee chairman Datuk Muhammad Jailani Khamis said cancellations of hotels and tour packages — particularly by visitors from China — have been apparent since early February.

“We estimated our tourist footfall in January had outperformed the January 2019 record.

“However, in the first two weeks of February, we have seen thousands of hotel bookings and tourism subscriptions cancelled by the Chinese due to Covid-19,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent phone interview.

Muhammad Jailani said the Melaka state government now has to hatch out plans that could divert the focus to other markets, including Indonesia, Brunei and Saudi Arabia.

He said the state had earlier set the target to attract up to 2.5 million visitors from mainland China, which could be the catalyst to its overall target of recording 20 million tourist footfalls this year.

The state also envisioned to receive about 400,000 tourists from China in the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20) after hosting almost two million Chinese in 2019 alone.

Melaka’s overall foreign tourist footfall jumped almost threefold from 2.2 million in 2010 to 5.7 mil

lion in 2018, supported by a huge jump in the Chinese market — which has been steadily increasing year-on-year, from only 255,000 in 2010 to almost 1.7 million visitors in 2018.

Circumventing the crisis is crucial for Melaka, a historical state that relies on more than 33% of its tourism revenue from foreigners.

The Melaka Tourism Promotion Division’s latest data showed that from January to September last year, most of the tourists who visited the state were from China with two million arrivals (40.22%); followed by Singapore with 718,000 (17%); and Indonesia with 417,000 (10%).

As it is, many airlines have cancelled flights to China, while the republic has also ordered travel agencies to suspend sales of tours to contain the coronavirus from spreading.

The risk to Melaka’s economy could be greater, with up to US$12.5 billion (RM51.8 billion) potential receipts expected to be wiped out if no mitigation plan to curb the losses is undertaken.

Muhammad Jailani said each Chinese tourist could potentially spend up to US$5,000 in Melaka, mainly on food and various other products.

He said Melaka has been on the right track up to last December, but the unforeseen circumstances, as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, could halt the state’s tourism industry from achieving the set target.

“It is so unfortunate that while we have already broken the record of 18 million tourists last year, compared to 17.2 million in 2018, we will have to face this unforeseen situation.

“We can’t really review our aim for the Chinese market this year because the aftermath of this virus could be stretched up to six months, minimum. So, we can’t rely on this market any more. It is too risky.

“Instead, we will immediately shift to the Sumatera market in Indonesia to recover any potential loss,” he said.

He said tourism counterparts from Sumatera and Melaka will meet soon to work out alternative tourism plans before the end of February.

In a previous news report, Muhammad Jailani said other alternative markets would include Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines to fill in the vacuum.

Last year, Chief Minister (CM) Adly Zahari had called for Melaka to expand its strategy in wooing foreigners to the state, which was dominated by local visitors of up to 66.6%.

The state has since set to increase the foreign portion aim to up to 50% by this year.

“Since the outbreak, we will have to do everything to save the state tourism industry, including revamping our plan and focusing on the domestic market.

“We’ll accept it if the domestic market would take up 80% of the total market this year,” Muhammad Jailani said.

While the death toll due to Covid-19 had passed 1,300 globally, Muhamad Jailani said no cases have been recorded in Melaka so far.

“As it is, we can confirm that the suspected case is zero, and we have set a very tight and intensive filtering process at all entry points to curb the virus spreading in this state,” he said.

He added that the state’s Health Department has been conducting stringent checks at jetty points and toll plazas, as well as scrutinising tourists who travel on buses and shuttles.