Confusion over SOPs led to hotel closures

Many hotels had closed temporarily, while some permanently, due to an unfavourable environment caused by Covid-19

by LYDIA NATHAN / graphic by MZUKRI MOHAMAD

VAGUE standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the Health Ministry and the National Security Council are some of the main reasons hotels were not operating as usual during the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners ED Shaharuddin M Saaid said many hotels had closed temporarily, while some permanently, due to an unfavourable environment impacted by Covid-19.

“Although there was no stern directive from the government, they definitely had a hand in hotels’ decisions to close for unspecified periods or even for good,” he said to The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Shaharuddin was responding to Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s statement last week that Putrajaya had never instructed hotels to close following the implementation of the MCO.

The latter said the lack of hotel guests had nothing to do with the government, adding that food and beverage outlets were also allowed to open as long as they adhered to the SOPs.

According to Shaharuddin, hotels within the MCO 2.0 areas were allowed to open albeit only for guests under contract agreements.

“These include oil and gas staff, airline crew, long-term guests and frontliners, but no tourists, in-dining, meetings or events allowed.

“Meetings and events contribute substantial sales and revenue to hotels, so obviously, it is impossible for hotels to make any profit during this period,” he said.

Shaharuddin added that cashflow is very important for hotels to sustain, therefore with such restrictions in force, it is impossible.

“Needless to say, even when a hotel is open and the rooms are empty, there is still cost to the hotel like staff salaries, operation costs, utility bills and maintenance.

“It is imperative to keep the hotel building, its furnishings, facilities and equipment in good working order at all times,” he said.

Moreover, Shaharuddin said the interstate travel ban has been a huge blow to the tourism industry as a whole.

“Sure, hotels in the MCO areas can take in guests, but how likely is it that people would want to stay at a hotel in the same state or district that they are residing in? Unless of course, it is for a meeting or event that requires accommodation, but definitely not for leisure.

“The latest SOPs are allowing tourists and dine-ins, but meetings are still prohibited.

“Plus, with interstate and inter-district travel bans still enforced, hotels are facing the same issues as before. There is still not much opportunity for us to acquire business,” Shaharuddin said.

He added that interstate and inter-district travel should be allowed as soon as possible, but with proper control on travellers.

“SOPs could include precautionary measures, a hotel reservation confirmation with evidence of a paid deposit and guests’ health status,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) said Ismail Sabri’s statement had caused some unrest within the industry.

President Datuk N Subramaniam noted that the senior minister was also aware that hotels had closed due to the lack of business and customers.

“Since the first MCO, hotels were listed as essential services, however, both international and state borders were closed until the Recovery MCO in June.

“This has led to hotels losing all revenue streams during that period as well as during the current MCO 2.0, forcing more to close and retrench,” he said in a statement.

According to Subramaniam, the entire industry largely depends on the movement of people, especially interstate travel.

“We hope that the government will extend additional support to the tourism and hotel industry by opening interstate travel soon.

“While we are waiting for international tourism to return, we need the government to at least allow us to survive on our own with the domestic market,” he said.

Additionally, he said the industry welcomes the reopening of the meetings, incentive, convention and exhibition sector, collectively also known as business events, which is an important sector that had placed Malaysia on the world map of international events.

“This was part of the 19 + 2 proposal points MAH submitted to the government through the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, which was presented in a joint meeting with Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau,” Subramaniam said.


Read our previous report here

Govt never instructed hotels to shut during MCO