What 2021 has in store for Malaysia's travel industry


Malaysia has some of the best sea adventure tourism in the world. — LEESAN

While sipping aromatic coffee at the ever busy Chan Hainam Kopitiam in Kuala Lumpur, several sprightly old aunties sitting at the next table yelled out spiritedly, “Wow! Facebook is incredible, huh. The pictures of us playing with snow in Hokkaido on this very day two years ago have all sprung up now. How I miss that. Hope I can travel again very soon.”

One of them saw me smiling upon hearing that (and eavesdropping on their conversation!), and recognised me. “Hey, Leesan, when can we go overseas again?” she asked loudly.

Travelling the world couldn’t have been more commonplace and easy before the coronavirus. But now, it has become such a big deal. All of a sudden, everyone sees me as a foreteller as to when they get to travel again, as if I am able to make that decision.

But really, when can we travel again? The government has mentioned that we should be able to fly again once the travel bubble programme, which is now being negotiated with eight other countries, takes off in February. I would really love to see this become a reality.

But the thing is though, we have not done enough – or perhaps even anything at all – in readying ourselves for the re-opening of our borders, especially when it comes to the international health code.

After having their tea and roti, the aunties at the kopitiam decided to go for a hike at the nearby Ketumbar Hill. I followed them closely behind.

I discovered that these women were aware that even though our healthcare system claims to be able to handle the daily average of around 1,800 new cases now, we may not be able to stop the “180,000 cases by February” forewarning from China’s Zhong Nanshan, if things don’t change soon.

In other words, as long as we are unable to flatten the curve, no government will dare to take the risk of welcoming Malaysians into their countries.

It doesn’t look like there will be a proper solution anytime soon, and the women are quick to give their opinion on why we are in this situation now. You’ll be surprised how good these ladies are at making an incisive and accurate analysis!

They also talked about the vaccine: “The people in Singapore have already gotten their most meaningful Christmas present this year: the coronavirus vaccine. Someone said we might get it next February, while there are also rumours that there may be a delay...”

Suddenly, one of them stopped, and turned around to ask me, “Leesan, will you get yourself vaccinated at the earliest possible time?”

Before I could even utter a firm “yes”, she answered: “I have faith in the vaccine, but no rush for me. Let the frontliners have it first. Moreover, with new virus strains now detected in South Africa and Britain, whether we get to travel overseas will very much depend on how effective the vaccines are.”

Hmmm... don’t you think it’s a blessing in disguise then for not being able to travel overseas? You save money, and can go hiking regularly to stay fit.

They had some choice words to share about the government after that.

Most Malaysians have been obediently adhering to the SOPs. But the thing is, the determining factor in this whole war against the virus lies with our leaders’ wisdom and ability to enforce the laws conscientiously and impartially.

Covid-19 is a global calamity of unprecedented scale. The tourism industry takes the brunt of it, but in truth, no economic sectors have been able to escape the impact.

To counter this, the government now has come up with six main strategic thrusts in the “National Tourism Policy 2020-2030”. I appreciate the fact that the government is trying its best in reviving the industry, but I also feel there are some missed points.

The pressing urgency is to address the problem of lost incomes for many, and the government’s 10-year plan won’t help mitigate our immediate woes.

As many as 3.6 million people or 23.6% of the country’s workforce is involved in the tourism industry, contributing 15.9% to the national coffers. But almost everyone is jobless or has been forced to live on so little in the past 12 months or so.

How many of us can survive this pandemic and see through the 10-year plan?

Indeed, 2020 has been a total wreck. Soon after we said goodbye to winter in early 2020, and before we could even usher in the spring flowers, we were brutally greeted by the snowstorms in Europe, North America, Japan and elsewhere.

I was thinking that God must have been putting human wisdom, passion, tolerance and selflessness to a big, big test, forcing us to rethink who should have the absolute say in the survival of our one and only planet.

On our way back, the ladies yelled out assuredly: “We’ll continue to support you, Leesan. Let’s travel again together!”

Thank you, ladies. There’s love in this world after all, and you’ve brightened up my day.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.

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