Tourism sector prepares to welcome visitors

The 2-year border closure has resulted in losses of about RM255b in tourism receipts 

by FAYYADH JAAFAR & NUR HANANI AZMAN / Pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

THE reopening of the country’s international borders is a crucial step for the tourism industry. 

The two-year closure of borders has hit the entire industry hard, resulting in Malaysia losing about RM90 billion in tourism receipts in 2020, with the figure increasing to RM165 billion in 2021.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said industry players can finally start rebuilding the tourism sector and contributing to Malaysia’s economic recovery. 

Citing the vaccination rate of close to 80% of the total population and 99% of the adult population, he said the country has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. 

“It makes sense to open our borders while maintaining updated standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure public health safety. 

“Local tourism players have already made preparations to welcome international tourists and have always maintained a clean and safe environment for everyone by adopting safety procedures. 

“With a firm date, the industry can now begin its marketing and promotion activities, and recall tourism workers in stages,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday, adding that the multiplier effect of tourist spending will invariably boost local economies and many subsectors of the tourism industry. 

However, Tan was unable to gauge how much of the losses Matta could recover as the border reopening was just announced. 

“We are beginning to notify counterparts and customers, review previous bookings which were on hold and create demand, among others,” he added. 

Tan noted that many countries have reopened their borders with recent ones being Australia and Singapore. 

Thailand, under its “Test and Go” programme, is allowing tourists to travel all over the country with a negative result on their first Covid-19 test without quarantine. 

The Philippines, on the other hand, has suspended its colourcoded country classification programme in favour of opening it to vaccinated travellers who test negative via a polymerase chain reaction test with no quarantine. 

Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and major cities across the US have gone a step further and removed all forms of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Tan said with countries transitioning away from vaccinated travel lanes in favour of welcoming vaccinated travellers from all countries, announcement by the prime minister (PM) brought relief for the tourism industry. 

He hoped that the updated SOPs will be in line with global practices, making travel experience after Covid-19 less stressful. 

“The government should beef up its healthcare facilities to cater for foreign tourists. 

“Matta is thankful to the government for listening to the industry’s needs,” Tan told TMR. 

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) is also anticipating good growth in its international passenger and aircraft traffic movements as this would contribute significantly to the group’s and airport community’s business performance. 

Its MD Datuk Iskandar Mizal Mahmood said among others, inbound tourism will also be rejuvenated and the spillover effect throughout the entire value chain will benefit Malaysia’s economy positively. 

He was appreciative of the collaborative effort taken by the Health Ministry (MoH) to engage the airport operator and other key stakeholders in coming up with the safety protocols. 

“The efficiency of safety protocols at the airport is a key focus area because it plays a major role in ensuring a pleasant passenger processing experience. Most passengers would not have travelled by air since the pandemic started, and therefore may be unfamiliar with the additional steps now required at the airport. 

“We must ensure that they have a good impression of Malaysia the moment they arrive and this first impression will be formed at the airport. The Covid Protocol portal launched by MoH Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar will be a 

great help in facilitating the arrival process as passengers can now get updated information from one single source,” he said in a statement yesterday. 

MAHB has ensured that all its international airports are ready to receive the influx of international passengers into the country once borders reopen on April 1. 

Iskandar said the airport operator has been continuously working with the authorities including MoH to improve the process flow at the airport especially for the arrival process. 

“In doing so, passenger feedback over the last several months are also taken into consideration so that passenger experience can be as smooth as possible while their wellbeing is being safeguarded,” he added. 

Among the steps taken by MAHB to ensure airport readiness include deploying more customer experience staff on the ground, as well as installing more signages and seats across the terminals for better passenger convenience and comfort. 

Similarly, the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) welcomed the April 1 border reopening, describing it as a beacon of light for the economic recovery of industries, including aviation. 

The group said this was a testament to Malaysia’s successful rollout of its vaccination programme, including the introduction of dedicated vaccination centres for frontline aviation personnel and staff. 

“Through this initiative, MAG was able to fully vaccinate its operating pilots and cabin crew as early as August 2021. 

“We are looking to achieve approximately 70% of our preCovid capacity by the end of 2022,” MAG said in a statement yesterday.