Braving the storm…

Business is not going too good for traders in what used to be among the most happening cities in the country

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“ARE we near?” the Grab driver timidly asked his passenger. There was uncertainty in his voice.

Despite the rather accurate direction that he got from the application on his smartphone, the young man who introduced himself as Cheong was not that confident if he was heading to the correct location.

“This is my first time in Kuala Lumpur (KL),” he said.

Apparently, he is originally from Johor Baru (JB) where he used to make quite a bit as a Grab driver.

“JB is very quiet now. There are not that many passengers. So, I decided to try my luck in KL. Sorry if I don’t seem to really know where I am going to. KL roads are just too confusing,” he said.

Cheong said he came with some friends and they decided to share a place as their base.

“I hope things are better here,” he said.

Cheong might be one of the many who have decided to uproot themselves in search of greener pastures. He just could not help it. JB, which used to have at least 1.5 million visitors monthly, is now rather quiet.

Business is not going too good for traders in what used to be among the most happening cities in the country.

JB used to serve thousands of tourists from China, who would fly direct into Senai International Airport, along with visitors from India, Indonesia and various other countries.

If you happen to be in JB lately, you might notice how “peaceful” the roads are. Traffic is not an issue in the city these days.

Shopping centres are not as crowded. If you drop by Johor Premium Outlet (JPO), you might not see any queue to any fashion houses like how it used to be pre-Covid-19.

Chances are, you’d see more staff in the area as the number of shoppers is just not as encouraging.

It is a time for good deals at JPO, too. For instance, buy two Levi’s jeans (which are already on discount) and you’d get another piece for free.

Outlets like Calvin Klein would also offer hefty discounts upon discounts on almost all the goods.

While the room rates for five-star hotels in Melaka are getting back to its original prices, the same could not be said for big brands in JB.

How often could you check into Thistle, Amari, DoubleTree by Hilton, or several other luxury hotels for below RM200 per night?

The absence of Singaporeans also has a drastic effect on prices of goods, especially food, in JB. Apparently, things are much more affordable now for the locals.

A recent report by The Malaysian Reserve revealed that tougher times are also expected for JB, as Singapore’s economy is expected to plunge into recession following the contraction of the republic’s GDP by 13.2% on a year-on-year (YoY) basis in the second quarter of this year (2Q20).

MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd economist Abdul Muiizz Morhalim said the southern state, being close to Singapore, is expected to suffer a drastic spillover effect from the slowdown in the city-state’s economy — also a result of the eight-week circuit breaker measures that were initiated from April 7 to slow the spread of Covid-19.

He said the reduced number of tourists from Singapore has greatly decreased transactions and spending in Malaysia, which is reflected in dismal sales at Johor’s retail outlets, including supermarkets, restaurants and shopping malls.

The analyst said apart from the retail sector, Johor’s property sector may see reduced foreign purchases by Singaporeans.

Following the cross-border travel ban, the number of tourist arrivals from Singapore fell sharply by 66.1% YoY to 309,476 in 2Q20. In contrast, a total of 1.02 million tourists from Singapore visited Malaysia in 2Q19.

No one knows for sure how long this dry spell would last. Of course, it is easier to assume that everything would be fine once a vaccine for the disease is available.

In the meantime, to each his own, and the more resolute and resilient people like Cheong would continue to find ways to survive…

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor at The Malaysian Reserve.