Operators need to relearn the fundamentals and create novel products for the post-Covid-19 market
pic by TMR FILE
THE Covid-19 pandemic has decimated many businesses and jobs. The worst hit is tourism, which encompasses services by airlines, trains, buses, taxis, e-hailing, private accommodation, hotels, restaurants, stalls, shops, malls, attractions, tour and car rental operators and many more.
Initially, many had hoped that the Movement Control Order (MCO), implemented since March 18, would soon be lifted. But it was followed by the Conditional MCO from May 4 and Recovery MCO from June 9 until Aug 31. From September, some form of MCO is likely to remain.
In any case, those who have made plans to continue with business as usual after the MCO is lifted and borders opened will be in for a rude shock. The days of mass tourism are over, and it will take at least four years for international travel to return to 2019 level.
Meanwhile, existing businesses could only survive if they go through a complete overhaul and create novel products for a new breed of customers. But the majority are unable to think out of the box and remain clueless, while those highly successful in the past are unlikely to change.
Although upskilling and reskilling can boost innovation, efficiency and productivity, most employers are not keen to invest in training. Their reasons may be misguided or they found their staff performing without significant improvement after attending training courses.
Sadly, employers suffer a double whammy when training is irrelevant or ineffective. Not only have they wasted money on training fees, the time workers spent away from their jobs could also amount to substantial losses in sales or business opportunities.
Although many parents have invested tens of thousands of ringgit for their children’s tertiary education, a few working adults are prepared to spend several hundred ringgit for their own training. Had they attended the right workshops; their careers could have been transformed.
Realising the great importance of training, the government tabled the PSMB Act in 2001 compelling employers with 10 Malaysian employees or more to register and contribute to the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF), from which they can draw down for training.
The size of this fund swelled rapidly as contributions, at one percent of salaries, far outpaced the amount drawn down for training. HRDF had to embark on a campaign by placing many large newspaper advertisements reminding employers to make use of the fund for training.
The quality of trainees, competency of trainers and suitability of programmes determine the effectiveness of training. If in-house venues are less conducive, the training might not be effective.
Function rooms with free and strong WiFi connection are readily available in many hotels nationwide. Selection of trainees is crucial when training is provided free of charge or heavily subsidised, as random acceptance of participants affects the learning outcome. Trainees must have language competency to participate actively in brainstorming, discussions and presentations.
Trainers must have relevant industry experience and are good at facilitating and guiding trainees to discover various solutions to actual problems and challenges. Lecturing based on available information and standard answers are academic knowledge that cannot resolve industry issues.
Although soft skills training is needed by all Malaysian workers, the most suitable programmes now are those that could revive ailing tourism firms by relearning the fundamentals of business operations to enhance efficiency and introducing novel products for a new breed of customers.
For example, the car rental sector has been relying mostly on long-term corporate rentals and air travellers picking up and dropping off rental cars at airports and hotels. A training workshop would allow car rental operators to explore and create new markets for the future.
Well-heeled tourists would continue to travel to destinations that are safe, and none better than exploring a country in a campervan, motorhome or caravan. Campervans are converted from large vans to include bed, kitchen, washroom and other amenities.
While campervans could easily be driven by most car drivers, only those that have handled larger vehicles are confident of driving motorhomes, which are built on minibus or truck chassis and are, therefore, spacious.
Caravans are without engines and need to be towed, but they offer the cheapest option. Car rental companies could hire out only the caravan or together with a towing vehicle such as a pick-up or SUV. Those inexperienced with towing could get familiarised within an hour.
Caravan rentals could easily take off without the need to set up caravan parks as many places could readily house one or more caravans such as golf clubs, hotels, resorts and even private homes with compound. It cost little to provide water and electricity supply caravans need.
Caravans could also be stationed at many places for an extended period to provide accommodation at facilities such as the popular durian, fruits and fish farms. For towing caravans, a tow hitch could easily be fitted to any large car, pickup or SUV after gaining approvals from the Road Transport Department and insurer.
Caravan tourism appeals greatly to those who wish to avoid coming into physical contact with others as much as possible by travelling and staying in their caravans without the need to check in to a hotel or share dining space with others in a restaurant.
Also, the majority of tour buses have been left idling over the past six months and will continue as long as operators wait for charter business, which would be few, if any. Without intervention, many tour buses in this country will be repossessed by leasing companies.
Instead of waiting indefinitely for foreign tourists to return, tour bus operators could easily run daily tours catering to the locals, but they are not doing so simply because they have not explored the huge potential of this domestic market.
But if the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture or HRDF could sponsor training on tourism vehicles operations for tour and car rental operators to relearn the fundamentals of their business operations, they would be able to create novel products for the post-Covid-19 market.
The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.