What does the future hold for tourism operators in Malaysia?


  • Travel
  • Saturday, 11 Apr 2020

Incoming international passengers and flight crew waiting to be screened at KLIA on March 24. Many people were not practising social distance. — Photos: LEESAN

Recently, our ship was stranded in the Atlantic, somewhere off the coast of South America, while on the way back from our 16-day Antarctica expedition. We were stranded because many nations started to impose lockdowns and close their borders, and we weren’t able to dock anywhere.

Our calm, positive-minded and sharp-witted captain kept reminding everyone on the ship to help one another during the stressful ordeal. At the same time, he was also busy negotiating with the authorities of several countries to let our ship dock. After seven days of getting turned down and seemingly sailing aimlessly at sea, the captain finally managed to send 191 passengers (from 15 nations) aboard the ship safely back to their home.

We were so thankful to our responsible and dutiful French captain for doing a great job.

There were only 25 positive Covid-19 cases in Malaysia when I set off for Antarctica in late February. And by the time I came back on March 24, the coronavirus could be found in as many as 180 nations, with Malaysia reporting over a thousand cases (the number is over 4,000 now).

Also, before I left the country, Pakatan Harapan was still very much in charge of the country. With the political and economic situation now and the virus spreading, I really hope our new “Captain” can put things back in order, and be fair to every one of us.

‘Live’ from Antarctica: ‘Hi everyone, let’s focus on combating the Covid-19 now!’‘Live’ from Antarctica: ‘Hi everyone, let’s focus on combating the Covid-19 now!’

Our home-bound flight took us across three continents and two oceans. During the 15-hour journey, every passenger onboard was overwhelmed with joy in anticipation of seeing our loved ones at home. However, something happened at the airport in Dubai where we had our transit. It took us completely off guard.

Emirates made the announcement to suspend most of its flights. As a result, the airport was packed with passengers on transit from the West, who were obviously anxious to rush home. Even with masks on, I could see fear and disappointment in everyone’s eyes. Apparently, the Covid-19 situation had gotten worse. Major airlines had suspended their services. For the few still flying, airfares were many times the normal rate.

Outside the terminal building, hundreds of grounded airplanes lay neatly on the apron. Everything was frozen, frightful and grim.

Weirdly, even though the situation was becoming more precarious, the Dubai airport authorities appeared to take things casually. As a matter of fact, the screening procedures at our own Kuala Lumpur International Airport were equally lax. They did not verify our personal particulars, giving us an advice slip instead, telling us to begin self-quarantine measures. (From what I know, the tracking wristbands issued by Sarawak authorities at the Kuching International Airport are far more efficient when it comes to quarantine enforcement).

You can imagine just how relieved the passengers on our flight, especially those arriving from the United States and Europe, were when they were told that they could go back to their own accommodation. I realised that if any of us were infected, it would be quite difficult to track every passenger on the flight.

Luckily, mandatory quarantine for everyone arriving in Malaysia started on April 3 and designated quarantine centres have been made available for them. I understand that being in quarantine is no fun at all but I didn’t want to make things more difficult for our devoted frontliners and willingly complied with the self-quarantine requirement.

A normally congested Federal Highway is all quiet during the MCO.A normally congested Federal Highway is all quiet during the MCO.

To be honest, our Health Ministry has done a superb job in handling the situation and in the ongoing fight against the spread of the virus. That said, the movement control order (MCO) should not be extended for too long. We need to zero in on specific targets and get the virus purged real soon.

My friends were worried about me being stranded at sea. One of them said, “It’s good to be home again, but let me warn you, the MCO is no joke. You could get constipation, insomnia, anxiety and depression!”

I laughed and responded: “Cheer up, man! You’ll also be annoyed and pestered, but at least by family and loved ones!”

But even as more people are working from home now, there isn’t much work one can do, as everything seems to be on hold now all over the world. For many of us, we suffer from sleepless nights worrying about the business, the company, and what fate awaits us after this whole thing has come to pass.

Many say bosses owe their big fortunes and luxuries to their hardworking employees. But, will they take care of you now that they are in hot water themselves?

Some old business friends were anxiously glued to the TV set for the Prime Minister’s speech on the first economic stimulus package on March 27; they shook their heads in frustration. I can understand the disenchantment of some of these bosses, but worry not as I believe the government will do everything they can to help low-income earners.

On April 6, the Prihatin stimulus package was announced and this time, it is targeted at SMEs. The government knows that bailing out a company is as good as bailing out thousands of workers. This logic is not so difficult to understand, right? Certainly, most SMEs appreciated that our government was being understanding and has accepted suggestions from relevant partners.

However, companies may still be looking forward to further stimulus enhancements as the economic situation may continue to deteriorate. Companies and businesses might end up sending possibly millions of people out of jobs!

Honestly, I am very worried about our tourism industry, of which 90% of the business is made up of SMEs, including tour operators, bus operators, hoteliers and theme parks.

The tourism industry makes up more than 4.7 million of the work force and most are mainly are females and young people (source: department of statistics Malaysia, dosm.gov.my).

Our industry has been severely impacted since January 2020. Furthermore, our recovery period will definitely take much longer compared to any other industries. Bear in mind that, most of the bosses now have ZERO income and probably a mountain of outstanding debts.

I have since completed my 18 days of self-quarantine since I returned. I thought about our French Captain and just how brilliant he was at handling our situation on the ship. What about our Prime Minister? I do wish that he gets all his ministers in order first. The rakyat will have to walk in his giant footsteps, and we are here to support him and be united!

Ps: Whether the virus is natural or man-made, it has at least taught us one thing, that we must treasure everything we now possess.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 133 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.

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