Tourism needs comprehensive blueprint beyond pandemic

The main challenge for the industry is the interstate travel ban, as MAH says the SOPs paired with the various stages of reopening must be practical and realistic


THE tourism industry is in great need of a forward blueprint to reopen and ensure tourism businesses of all sizes can survive the current crisis, while prioritising health and safety.

Although domestic tourism is open for states in Phase 2 and above under the National Recovery Plan (NRP), it serves little purpose when people are not allowed to travel interstate, said Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) CEO Yap Lip Seng.

“Throughout the pandemic, reopening of selected sectors whether conditional or not, or relaxation of operational standard operating procedures (SOPs) is not the main concern of the tourism and hotel industry, but instead the main challenge for us is the interstate travel ban.

“We need to strategise reopening of selected destinations, target travellers and eventually international borders. These need to be plotted into a forward milestone chart to enable both macro and on-the-ground stakeholders’ planning,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Effective Aug 10, fully vaccinated individuals who reside in states under Phase 2 and above of the NRP can enjoy several privileges as the government has eased restrictions in the social sector.

Among the restrictions lifted include the ban on dine-in at eateries, inter-district travel, non-physical contact sports and recreational activities, as well as tourism activities within the same state involving homestays and hotels.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated parents are allowed to travel interstate and inter-district to visit their minor children. Fully vaccinated long-distance married couples are also allowed to cross district and state borders to meet.

Yap stressed that the SOPs paired with the various stages of reopening must be practical and realistic, as well as prepared to accept a threshold of Covid-19 cases that could still appear.

The government also announced that Langkawi will reopen for tourists from Sept 16 under the tourism bubble programme.

Langkawi Development Authority (Lada) CEO Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib was reported as saying that nearly all tourism products on the island are expected to be open to tourists, subject to the SOPs set by the National Security Council (NSC).

He said Lada, together with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac), had submitted a suitable SOP proposal for approval by the NSC to ensure the reopening would go smoothly.

“We will open all tourism products, in terms of hotels, business premises, eateries and other activities such as water sports. Each product requires its own SOPs and we leave it to the NSC to decide on it,” he said in a Bernama report.

Yap further said this is part of the exit plan on living with the pandemic, transitioning to it being endemic.

“The industry also needs political stability as it directly impacts the economy and more so in the current situation where pandemic management is of utmost importance.

“After about 17 months battling Covid-19, the country and the industry need to transition into an exit plan on living with the virus, and this can only be executed through a functional and committed government,” he added.

Echoing this sentiment, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said every business wants a politically stable environment.

“This includes tourism, especially new strategies to meet challenges and a safe reopening of tourism activities.

“We cannot go on in this current situation with continued travel restrictions and so-called test runs on one or two travel bubbles, which is just a ‘slow death’ at this rate we are going,” he told TMR.

He urged fully vaccinated individuals to travel with compliance to SOPs, with controlled travel plans and avoiding unnecessary contact with the local community.

Motac Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said the tourism bubble pilot project in Langkawi will be the benchmark for other main resort islands.

“Reopening Langkawi’s tourism sector will see whether other tourism activities such as hotels and homestays, business events as well as zoos to be operational, pending announcement,” Nancy said in a statement last Friday.

“Motac will be constantly monitoring and holding several more engagement sessions with tourism industry players and relevant stakeholders to expand this tourism bubble in phases after this,” she added.