FOR the last 12 years, I have travelled to London, mostly on Malaysian Airlines since it is a direct flight without the hassle of lost hours on transit and catching connecting flights.
Due to infrequent and few MH flights to London since the pandemic, I travelled on Singapore Airlines for my current trip, now that Changi Airport has allowed transit flights.
Dubai and Doha Airport stayed open throughout the pandemic while Changi just reopened some months back for transit passengers from Malaysia.
The airline industry has gone through the toughest period since its inception. Closed borders, changing rules on closed and open borders, safety issues of passengers and crew has reduced capacity by 80% to 90%. Cash burn velocity has been unbelievable with high capital investments with loans to service, major staffing costs and the maintenance of aircrafts.
Malaysian Airlines is lucky to have Khazanah continuing to pump in money for its sustenance. Meanwhile AirAsia is scrambling for private capital and government loans that has been supposedly forthcoming.
I am sure Tan Sri Tony Fernandes will eventually prevail, being the tenacious entrepreneur he is, once the Asean borders reopen. It will be a step by step reset for AirAsia and Tony as he spends his time in the last 15 months building his digital business.
I am not too optimistic on the future of AirAsia X as their main market, China, has closed its borders for inbound and outbound travel (due to their zero-tolerance on Covid-19) and there are no clear intentions of reopening their borders anytime soon.
The Chinese government has gone to the extent of refusing to renew expired passports since overseas travel is not allowed. In the last 15 months, world tourism has been short of 120 million big spending Chinese visitors to their countries.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, citizens were travelling for their summer holidays to European countries that do not impose quarantine measures and reciprocal non-quarantine requirements when returning as long as one is fully vaccinated. Countries like Greece and Spain, who depend on tourism dollars, have reset their Covid-19 policies to simply kick-start their tourism industry.
Domestic tourism in UK picked up tremendously with many hotels, lodges and Air BnB accommodations fully booked throughout August.
As I walked the popular shopping streets in London, many retail shops and restaurants remained shut with no new tenants forthcoming. Even though the economy is fully opened, inbound tourism is badly affected with the government set to stop the furlough scheme (paying 70-80% of citizens salaries) by end August, which can only mean that another round of retrenchments is highly possible come September.
Recovery will be slow and uncertain but at least the reset button has been activated. It will be like a country suffering from a deep recession for two years and now crawling out of the woods with outstanding public health concerns.
So what can Malaysia learn from these countries as we reset our economy?
Inbound and outbound tourism will recover very slowly depending on the opening of borders by highly vaccinated countries. Domestic tourism is the low hanging fruit that can be easily plucked for instant employment opportunities and reviving the severely-hit hotels and accommodation businesses. Local spending will have a multiplier effect on small businesses along the highways and byways. Malaysian Airlines and AirAsia can start building capacity with a clear roadmap ahead.
In a webinar two days ago, Khairy Jamaluddin, who was appointed Health Minister yesterday, argued that lives vs livelihoods need not be a zero sum game as we open our economy. Once our population is fully vaccinated, we must still practice safe SOP’s of wearing masks, sanitising our hands and keeping safe distance policies in enclosed spaces. I fully agree with him.
The whole nation is struggling from pandemic and lockdown fatigue and coupled with loss of income for the poor, it is best that we find a new pathway before unhappiness turns into civil disobedience, as we have seen happening in many countries.
I will go further by proposing to our new Prime Minister and his cabinet that they replace the micro-managing SOP’s with clear broad policies with regards to public health activities and economic activities.
Not only do the SOP’s confuse the business communities and the public, the haphazard enforcement has caused tremendous damage and uncertainty. Enforcement activities should come with advice and warnings, not an immediate fine. Instead of helping a drowning citizen, the enforcement officers, clearly lacking in empathy, are taking drastic actions. On a global basis, this pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in governments in managing public health, vaccinations and livelihoods issues. It is a fact that no current government in the world, except for China and Singapore, have managed these three issues effectively. Malaysia’s problem has been exacerbated by the political crisis since the start of the pandemic.
Perhaps with Malaysia turning 64 in three days time, it is time for a reset in our national policies and strategies going forward. It must be noted that our new Prime Minister, at 61-years-old, is the first PM born after our independence and represents the new generation of leaders post Tun Mahathir’s generation of old.
It is clear that the past and current political game plan of playing race and religion cards has polarised this country. The older generation of politicians are unaware of the changing landscapes and are still stuck in this vicious cycle of money politics, corruption and power play for self interest.
The time to reset is the next General Election (GE15). In the interests of the nation, may I humbly request that the older generation of leaders step aside and allow the current generation to take over. This nation needs fresh ideas and energetic young leaders who will work in a bipartisan manner for the good of the country. Provide the opportunities for the next generation of leaders to take over come the next elections.
There is an urgent need for this nation to be more inclusive in our multi-racial landscape, reboot meritocratic policies across the entire government and civil service, besides resetting our education towards academic excellence and skill sets needed for the future.
If you think my wish is far off, my friend Yew Meng predicts that when the new generation of leaders take over in 2028, they will manage this country with righteousness, ethics and morality.
That would indeed be a major reset from what we are going through now.
Happy Merdeka to Malaysia, our beloved country.
Tan Thiam Hock is an entrepreneur. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.