Reviving tourism amid floods, Omicron

Hotels have received cancellation of bookings due to floods, but are hopeful that the recent floods are a one-off odd occurrence

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / Pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE travel and tourism industry thought they were finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but it is now being ambushed by new challenges including torrential rains followed by floods, as well as the potentially more infectious Omicron variant.

Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) CEO Yap Lip Seng said the recent floods had no doubt impacted a lot of people and with many areas affected, travel is of least importance at this point of time.

“Although not extensive, hotels have in fact received cancellation of bookings due to this.

“However, we are hopeful that the recent floods are a one-off odd occurrence,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

The ongoing floods’ impacts on the tourism industry include the decline in visitor numbers and consequent business losses, damage to facilities and local infrastructure, and substantial rebuilding costs.

However, Malaysia Tourism Council president Uzaidi Udanis expressed optimism as the monsoon’s impact is not nationwide, which means that there is still hope for some.

“Langkawi and Penang for example are not affected and are doing very well. The tourism bubble vaccinated travel lane (VTL) indeed plays a big role in the recovery phase. The main challenge now is manpower shortage, resulting in some hotels and local businesses unable to operate at full capacity.

“We do have a lot of tourism graduates but when the pandemic hit, many of them, even the staff that were terminated previously, tried their luck in other industries in which they are doing well and decided not to come back to the hotels industry,” he told TMR.

On the Omicron variant, Uzaidi said this is the new norm that we must live with, hence the government needs to find ways to balance between public safety and economic livelihood.

Uzaidi cited other countries, such as Maldives, which registered new daily tourist arrival records recently and witnessed an increasing number of incoming flights.

“Moving forward, we need to step up in terms of innovation. For example, build smarter processes with management and mobility, or start building robotic housekeeping teams. Efficiency is vital to an effective housekeeping operation.

“I believe 2022 will be a recovery year for the tourism industry despite all the challenges. The border really must be opened not only for Singapore and Indonesia, but also Asean as we depend a lot on the Asean market,” he added.

Echoing the sentiment, MAH’s Yap said the priority now is on an exit plan, transitioning into endemic with more emphasis on management of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and enforcement, alongside self-regulations.

“For tourism, we should proceed with border reopening in phases, such as extensions on VTL arrangements with Singapore, for example to Penang and Sabah, and subsequently with other countries on similar arrangements.

“Any form of lockdown should be avoided at all costs, and focus must be on endemic management and a sustainable exit plan to steer the economy back on track. Tourism industry stakeholders are already anticipating the recovery stage and reopening of borders, but this is now being delayed due to concerns on the new variant.”

After having dealt with other variants of concerns, Yap believes the Omicron variant should not be a major derail of current SOPs.

“Instead, this could be addressed with better awareness and enforcement, and the people should be empowered with sufficient knowledge to protect themselves at all times.

“Although we are seeing a delay in reopening international borders, we should not be expecting a blanket lockdown that has already been proven to be ineffective while causing damage to the economy,” he said.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) secretary general Nigel Wong said tourism stakeholders have received some cancellations on bookings due to the floods, but they do expect that people will still be traveling for leisure.

On the Omicron variant, as seen in various countries, he said some temporary changes to travel restrictions might happen but once the situation stabilises, he looks forward to these restrictions being lifted.

“Tourism stakeholders will be severely impacted as the industry looks forward to some level of recovery in 2022. This is especially so for Malaysia, which derives much of its tourism income from foreign tourists.

“Our government must be forward looking — plan ahead to ensure that there is as little disruption to day-to-day business as possible,” he told TMR.

Wong said the government should take this time to revamp the Tourism Industry Act 1992 and streamline various licensing processes to give local tourism stakeholders a greater competitive edge for when borders reopen and travel resumes.