Covid-19: Where do travel operators in Malaysia go from here?


  • Malaysia
  • Saturday, 23 May 2020

The columnist on one of his many travels around the world, pre-coronavirus days. He feels that for the tourism industry to rebound faster and stronger, mutual trust and support among the governments of all nations need to be nurtured. — Photos: LEESAN

Almost every country in the world is struggling to cope with effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, including Malaysia.

I urge the government to look at the tourism industry, which for the past 33 years has made remarkable contributions towards the country’s development.

I know that the fate of the 100,000 individuals employed in this industry is not any better than that of a modest nasi lemak seller. But something better needs to be done for the travel industry.

Allow me to share with you some of the disheartening facts pertaining to the tourism industry in Malaysia today.

1 The coronavirus has come all too soon, too rapidly, too extensively and too callously, and has completely crushed all the upstream and downstream tourism-related sectors.

2 The travel industry itself is not a very lucrative one to begin with. A company’s cash flow thrives on customers’ deposits in general, with many hardly having any reserves to see the business through bad times.

3 While most of us are having zero revenue right now, some of the fixed expenses are squarely unavoidable. The banks have said they will not extend loans to travel-related agencies.

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4 Many travel agencies, souvenir shops, hotels, airline companies and others have had to resort to pay cuts since March and will continue through June or beyond in order to stay afloat. Mass lay-offs, liquidations and bankruptcies are expected to follow. Over 100,000 people in the tourism payroll are about to lose their jobs and go without money to buy food or visit a doctor, and the government still doesn’t have any long-term unemployment relief plans in place.

5 Many travel agencies handling inbound tours have wound up as early as January and are now panting under the immense pressure from outstanding debts, owed salaries, tour guide fees, commissions, credit card arrears, tour bus loans, hotels and restaurants.

6 Thanks for offering a RM600 relief fund to help out the 8,000 licensed tourist guides and tour bus drivers. But is that a one-off aid?

   Tour guides in Malaysia are thankful for the RM600 relief fund from the government. This picture was taken earlier in the year, when social distancing was not a ‘thing’ yet...Tour guides in Malaysia are thankful for the RM600 relief fund from the government. This picture was taken earlier in the year, when social distancing was not a ‘thing’ yet...

7 As for outbound travel agencies, by right the first half of the year should be peak travel season for Malaysians with overwhelming paid bookings. But the thing is, a big chunk of the receipts have been almost instantaneously transferred to airline companies and ground arrangement operators abroad, with not much left at the disposal of local travel agencies. All paid tour fees and refunds have to go as per the provisions of Tourism Industry Act.

8 Out of the blue, the government pulled the plug on outbound travels, making it extremely difficult for us to make refunds to customers. The government spokesman just told the industry players to coordinate and work out all refunds, which made the situation even more confusing. I believe that the ministry should take the lead in coordinating.

ALSO READ: How the Malaysian hotel and travel industry is helping Covid-19 frontliners

9 To be frank, the Tourism Industry Act 1992 is outdated. Perhaps the government should take the cue from the insurance mechanisms of Taiwan and Hong Kong to safeguard the interests of consumers. In the event of a disaster, both sides will be subjected to the legal liabilities and their losses will be adequately covered. So, minister, please do something right away!

10 People involved in the travel business, along with their families, welcome the government assistance of between RM600 and RM1,200, but they have to apply for this assistance month-to-month. Why can’t they get assistance for six months in one go?

11 I would suggest that the minister bring up this matter to the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and make sure everyone in the industry gets to keep his or her job. I would propose to the government to seriously look into subsidising 60% of salaries for people employed in the travel agency up to RM3,000 a month through September. What do you think, Nancy?

12 Although it is utterly important to restart the tourism industry, will the government prioritise domestic tourism after the ban on interstate travel is lifted? This could be a fantastic idea, but are there any follow-up plans? Why don’t you issue “domestic travel vouchers” to senior citizens, people with special needs, frontline healthcare personnel and civil servants? With these vouchers in hand, I’m sure Malaysians are more motivated to spend. This is what we call tourism economics.

ALSO READ: Why is it so important for Malaysians to travel local post Covid-19?

13 It is hoped that bi-directional intraregional tourist traffic could be reinstated within Asean beginning July this year.

14 From September, the new normal in international travels should be up and running, beginning with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and China. What do you think of this, minister?

15 Of course, this is provided that governments first agree to exempt each other’s visitors from the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Countries among the European Union are preparing to do so from June.

16 I do believe that some kind of Covid-19 test certificate, not unlike the yellow fever vaccination certificate, is a good idea to have in place, just for additional peace of mind for both consumers and travel workers.

17 The pandemic has truly highlighted the man-induced vulnerability and weaknesses of the tourist industry.

18 It’s high time to overhaul the Tourism ministry and inject into the institution new scientific and technological elements as well as systematic data management to keep up with the times in analysing industrial risks, training and upgrading of tourism-related sectors.

While many think that US president Donald Trump has controversial opinions and ideas about the pandemic, at least his administration puts revitalising the US economy as a priority. We need the Cabinet to tell us need how we should move forward.

Why don’t you take the lead, Nancy, to usher in the new normal of a reformed tourism ministry? You will definitely have our full backing!

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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