Travel bubble suspension foils tourism recovery

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

TOURISM industry players said the suspension of the travel bubble for areas under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) will only derail the sector’s recovery.

The sector has been banking on the upcoming festive season to kick-start recovery and resume their operations, but the government’s latest announcement may push hoteliers to close down altogether.

Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners ED Shaharuddin M Saaid said hotel operators are very disappointed that the government has made the decision to suspend travel permission for tourism between RMCO areas when it was previously declared safe for such activities.

“It is especially important during the holiday season and it is a bit surprising why this decision was made when there are no reports of cases of infection or clusters related to tourism, especially in hotels. In addition, the imposed standard operating procedures (SOPs) are strict.

“The business situation and revenue of the hotel sector has been very critical for over a year, and cross-district and cross-state permissions can help the sector’s recovery to continue operating and remain in business,” he told The Malaysian Reserve yesterday.

He added that when cross-state tourism was previously allowed, occupancy rates in some hotels were reported to have increased to between 40% and 70%, compared to the previous 20%.

“Many hotels that are still temporarily closed, while some that have been closed for almost a year now, had the intention to re-operate in the near future if the hotel and tourism business recovery remains positive and encouraging.

“With the current situation, this ban has hampered the hotels’ plans to re-operate in the near future.”

On Tuesday, Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that cross-border travel between RMCO states via the domestic travel bubble concept has been suspended.

The decision was made following the National Security Council (NSC) special meeting amid rising Covid-19 cases nationwide, he said.

“We will make an announcement on when the suspension will be lifted at a later date,” Ismail Sabri said.

Shaharuddin said it would not be surprising to see some hotels continue to close operations either temporarily or permanently, if this situation prolongs.

“This is a huge loss to the country’s tourism, investors and hotel owners …a huge loss and unfortunate for the workforce involved in the industry as they will be losing their jobs.”

Malaysian Association of Travel and Tour Agents (Matta) deputy president Mohd Akil Mohd Yusof said at this rate, travel agents will continue to suffer.

“Financial institutions will be even tougher with travel agents who use their facility, and have said that we are a high-risk industry.

“This will only spell worse for the industry, which means more of us will decide to hibernate or change over to another business, or even close for good, while more staff will be retrenched.”

He said fewer clients will be confident to travel because something will always crop up to cancel or postpone their plans.

“The travel agents will need more financial aid from the government.

“RM3,000 is not enough to waive us through these challenges,” Mohd Akil said.