All hands on deck for border reopening

The main challenge is that there is no clear roadmap or plan on how Malaysia intends to reopen its borders

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

TOURISM industry players said Malaysia needs to immediately sort out several issues, including regulations, visa and flight arrangements for international tourists, in light of the government’s decision to reopen borders next month.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) secretary general Nigel Wong said the government needs to ensure that the requirement for international arrivals is not too restrictive.

He said quarantine times for travellers coming from “safe” destinations, and who have done the proper screening and testing, should be significantly reduced or abolished altogether.

“Domestic tourism is not a sustainable solution for Malaysia due to the travelling habits of local tourists. Malaysia has always been reliant on inbound tourism to sustain and grow the industry, and this will not change in the near future. Hence, it is imperative that we move quickly to secure international arrivals as quickly as possible.

“The main challenge is that there is no clear roadmap or plan on how Malaysia intends to reopen its borders. This does not provide enough time for tourism businesses to prepare or to promote the country,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

With the changing global trends, Wong believes that states with eco-attractions or well-communicated safety messages will probably see more interest or appeal to newer emerging-market segments.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that Langkawi will be open to international tourists from Nov 15, under the tourism bubble pilot project.

He said the target group is high-yield tourists, as well as individuals who had completed the Covid-19 vaccination.

“Children under the age of 18 must be present with their parents/ guardians who have been fully vaccinated, while the list of countries allowed will be determined by the Malaysian Immigration Department, Ministry of Health Malaysia and Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said in a statement.

Langkawi is an ideal destination to receive international travellers as the island indeed has proven its tourist management sans quarantine since it reopens in September, Malaysia Tourism Council president Uzaidi Udanis said.

Still, he said a collaboration between the industry, federal government and state government is needed to make it happen and prove that Malaysia is ready to open to the international market.

“Flight availability will be one of the challenges as the flight tickets might be costly and less frequent due to less volume. But the industry players are looking at the possibility of having an arrangement of chartered flights to Malaysia once the border reopens.

“Visa arrangement is also important because we have to provide convenience to future tourists from certain countries like India and China. I hope the government will make arrangements on digital visa or e-visa to ease their process,” he told TMR.

Uzaidi said the agility of regulation plays a big role in order for the industry to become more innovative. For example, the government needs to look at caravan permits to rent out to international tourists.

“The industry players definitely anticipate border reopening because inbound tourism traffic is very important. In 2019, the industry provided 3.6 million jobs. But I believe it depends on the government’s decision, while coordinating with the industry players to avoid new clusters or a new pandemic to the country.

“A total of 1,500 tourism industry operators has received compliance certifications from Malaysia Productivity Corp under the Adopt and Adhere Covid-19 standard operating procedure guidelines to operate under the new norm,” he added.

According to Matta’s Wong, to help rebuild the message of trust, three national tourism associations namely Matta, Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) and Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers, together with the Malaysian Aviation Group (MAG), have banded together under the Travel Safe Alliance (Malaysia).

“This is to offer travellers a start-to-end ‘travel safe’ solution when utilising the services of accredited travel and tour operators, hotels, convention centres and airlines under the MAG — working together in smart-partnership with the federal and state govts towards branding Malaysia as a safe destination to visit.” he said.

Meanwhile, MAH CEO Yap Lip Seng said the industry is hopeful for a reopening of international borders in stages beginning end of this year, in a targeted approach for selected markets — naturally with Asean countries first and then specific markets such as China.

He said key entry points or cities are highly dependent on international arrivals, such as Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, Penang, Johor, Sabah and also Langkawi, while secondary destinations that had traditionally gained from international arrivals are Melaka, Negri Sembilan (Port Dickson) as well as Genting Highlands.

“From our survey, the hotel industry of Malaysia has a market mix of 55% domestic and 45% international. Without international arrivals, it would seem that the industry will not be expecting a full recovery. Domestic market will be dominant for the next one year with much lower spending power.

“Domestic tourist expenditure (based on Tourism Malaysia report 2019), an average spending of a domestic tourist is approximately RM400 while an international tourist approximately RM3,000,” he told TMR.

Due to the pandemic, Yap said many workers have left the tourism industry and are unlikely to return despite the reopening.

“The industry has lost a lot of talent and at the same time has become unattractive to job seekers. This talent drain is expected to last for another year or two, leaving a gap at the expense of the industry’s ability to receive tourists.

“On investment level, after suffering from losses for almost two years, the industry will not be able to reinvest or upgrade, and on a larger scale may also be left with worn and tired products as well as infrastructure. This will affect the country’s tourism competitiveness, especially when compared to neighbouring countries,” Yap said.