Tourism operators want exact timeline for border reopening

Further delay will result in a massive loss to the tourism industry, stakeholders say

by ANIS HAZIM / pic by TMR FILE

TOURISM operators want a definitive date for borders reopening, citing that further delay would only result in a massive loss to the tourism industry.

“We understand that the decision to finalise will take some time, but we are a bit worried because the longer we wait, the more we will lose to the ‘game’ — our game is to win the tourism business back,” Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association president Uzaidi Udanis said.

Currently, Malaysia lags behind its regional peers in reopening the borders as it requires hefty rules and regulations upon arrival.

“More destinations have opened up, so we need to speed up the opening of our country because if we look at our neighbour, Singapore has eased its terms and conditions with no requirements for Covid-19 PCR test,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“We understand if they are not going to reopen the borders by March 1, but at least give us a tentative timeline for us to prepare.

“The tourism businesses need to prepare in terms of staff, tour guides, facilities, transportation, marketing and make sure that everything is in order,” he added.

Uzaidi said the competition in the international market is very stiff, hence, Malaysia needs to progressively join other countries in importing international tourists by reopening the borders very soon.

“At the moment, we have become a spectator because we only export our people to other countries since the government allowed Malaysians to travel overseas.

“However, we are not allowed to welcome international tourists in our country except for the Langkawi travel bubble and vaccinated travel lane,” he noted.

Last Saturday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said Malaysia’s borders will reopen by the second quarter of this year with the actual date to be announced by the prime minister.

National Recovery Council chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had said that the council proposed for the Malaysian borders to reopen next month.

However, the high number of Covid-19 cases reported daily may delay the plan as the government is expected to deliberate on the matter.

Uzaidi further said that waiting for borders to reopen also sparks worries and anxiety to tourism operators, especially in East Malaysia as they depend so much on the international market.

“For the past two years, they (tourism operators in East Malaysia) have become dormant because they are not active in the domestic market — that only has minimal contribution to them compared to international tourists as they spend more time and activities when visited,” he said.

On transportation, Uzaidi noted that only a few airlines travel worldwide during this time, so Malaysia has to find ways to attract more airlines to fly to Malaysia, which needs to be done through marketing.

Notably, he said marketing is one of the critical parts as it cannot be done overnight and needs proper and long planning for inbound tourism.

“Of course, we want to ensure a safe environment for the tourism industry, but we also need to keep the business running since we have not been utilising or maximising our productivity for almost two years,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents outbound VP Cynthia Tan expects the tourism industry to collapse if the borders remain shut.

“Of course, this industry will collapse, especially small and medium businesses. The industry has been suffering badly for 24 months, and where can we get the funds and cost to sustain again,” Tan said in a text reply to TMR.

She noted that even some big companies like AirAsia X and Star Cruise had ceased their operations due to the pandemic which will also be the case for the small and medium tourism operators.

“I urge the government to seriously consider the survival of this industry unless they want to give up.

“I believe the reopen for March is hard, but at least give guidelines and a schedule to the industry when this will be exercised,” she said.