It's not always that you get the option of learning how to “climb trees” while on holiday at a seaside resort.
But there I stood, next to a 50m- tall tree, wearing a yellow safety helmet and a harness over my lower torso. We were not to climb the tree the conventional way – that is, like how most of us did as kids – but rather, to hoist ourselves up using sort of a pulley system with ropes.
I hooked the harness onto one of the ropes hanging from the tree top, and, following the instructions of my tree-climbing coach, I jumped as high as I could so that I could literally “hang” from the tree.
Unfortunately, I had problems jumping, which meant that I could not hang off the ground high enough to start climbing the tree properly.
I gave up after about 30 minutes of very sweaty tries.
My tree-climbing partner, meanwhile, effortlessly pulled himself all the way up to the top in under 10 minutes. I looked at him enviously, and I convinced myself that the reason why I couldn’t do was because of my, um, bad back.
This tree-climbing session was an activity offered at One & Only Desaru Coast in Johor, one of the few resorts to open in Malaysia this year. Located at Desaru Coast, the country’s latest premium tourism destination, One & Only Desaru Coast officially began operating in the first week of September, after postponing its original launch date in March.
Back then, Malaysia was placed under the recovery movement control order, where everyone was allowed to travel within the country for the purpose of tourism. The resort, like many others around the country, was seeing an encouraging number of guests checking in each week.
Today, however, it’s a different story. Many hotels have closed down; in Johor itself, 13 properties have been forced to shut in the past few months. The pandemic is taking its toll on the global economy, and tourism is one of the worst-hit industries, especially in a country like Malaysia where tourism receipts account for a large part of its gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, tourism contributed 13.3% to the GDP in Malaysia.
This year, from January to September, Malaysia only recorded a total of RM12.6bil in tourism receipts, down 80.9% from last year (RM66.1bil).
This is a worrying situation, made worse when a second conditional MCO came into effect in October, and interstate – as well as inter-district – travel was not allowed. Though hotels were open, guests were limited to the few business folks allowed to travel with permission from the authorities.
Some hotels and resorts have had to reinvent themselves and come up with creative ways to stay afloat. For example, hotels like Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, Holiday Inn Express, Royale Chulan, Hatten Hotel (Melaka) and Grand Magherita Hotel (Sarawak) have been offering their meeting rooms and lounge areas as working spaces for folks who need a break from... working from home.
Others are packaging their once-popular buffets as take-away bundles, where diners are given “buffet kits” to assemble themselves at home. At one point, luxury hotel Mandarin Oriental KL was even offering its housekeeping services to folks who need to deep clean their houses or offices.
While all these ideas are creative, they can hardly make up for the loss of revenue. All hotel proprietors know that they would need to come up with better, or even more aggressive, business solutions to survive. And that will be a steep hill to climb, for sure.
In the meantime, as more travel restrictions are lifted and “restart tourism” initiatives kick into gear again, perhaps there are some things that hotels and resorts in Malaysia can plan for as a way to welcome back guests. Of course, all these activities would still need to follow health and safety guidelines set by the Health Ministry and the National Security Council.
For example, private or virtual cooking classes with hotel chefs may be worth a shot, especially since the holiday season is upon us. Conduct a small class or workshop with an executive chef on how to prepare a holiday feast. They can also create a live online tutorial on how to make the best holiday desserts with a hotel pastry chef.
These classes would also make perfect early Christmas gifts for amateur cooks or foodies, or a family holiday activity.
Some guests would also appreciate guided nature walks or hiking trips.
At One & Only Desaru Coast, a short nature walk led by the resort’s “naturalist” takes place early in the morning when the birds are lively and the monkeys are just waking up. The resort is mostly surrounded by a lush forest – the other part faces the South China Sea, of course – so they take advantage of that to create better experiences for guests.
Even hotels in the city can offer this experience. In Kuala Lumpur, there are large parks and forests right in the heart of the city, like the KL Forest Eco Park and Taman Tugu, that hotels can make use of for their guests. Instead of just showing people how to get to these places, offer the services of a nature guide (for a fee, of course) to make the excursion more interesting.
In fact, tree-climbing sessions can probably be done at some of these parks too (ask for permission first!).
A few places may be ticketed areas, but hotels can always try to negotiate a better deal for their guests.
Cultural and heritage tours – and not forgetting, foodie trips – are also great experiences that hotels can offer guests. Engage a licensed tourist guide to take your guests on private tours around the city, town or kampung. Tourist guides have lost a lot of business, too, so this is a good way for hotels to lend them some support.
Hotels with good spa facilities need to amp up their services to offer more all-inclusive wellness packages. This means that instead of just massage therapies, include one-on-one work out sessions with personal trainers at the hotel gym in the wellness package. Go all out and include some delicious and nutritious meals prepared by the hotel chefs, too.
Luxury hotels and resorts like Banyan Tree KL, The RuMa KL, Villa Samadhi, Anantara Desaru Coast, The Andaman, Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, and One & Only Desaru Coast are already offering curated wellness packages to guests, and a few of these places have even won awards for their specialised treatments.
Some hotels are already implementing these suggestions today, but there are many more ideas to explore. We understand that these are not the permanent solutions that hotels need to survive, but if they at least encourage hotel staff to stay positive and productive in these tough times, then maybe it is worth trying. Now that we can travel again, let’s hope things will get better for everyone, in any industry, soon enough.