Prioritise Malaysian tourism workers for Covid-19 vaccine, say stakeholders

  • Malaysia
  • Wednesday, 24 Feb 2021

Many hotels, like the Hotel Equatorial Penang, have been forced to shut down since last year; more are expected to follow suit. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

Over a hundred hotels in Malaysia have shut down since March last year, and more premises are expected to cease operations in the months to come.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), in a statement, said more hotel closure is a “harsh reality” brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The second movement control order that began in January robbed the industry of any hopes of recovery this year. The industry is set to lose, on average, a minimum of RM300mil in revenue for every two weeks of MCO, after losing an estimated RM6.5bil last year, ” a statement from MAH said.

The association is calling on the government to help the Malaysian tourism and hospitality industry survive the pandemic. MAH had presented a 19-point proposal to the Tourism, Art and Culture Ministry recently.

Some of the proposals include higher wage subsidy, utility discount and loan moratorium.

MAH president Datuk N. Subramaniam said the government needs to inject even more assistance to keep the industry competitive.

“The tourism and hotel industry employs 3.6 million persons and is one of the main contributor to the country’s economy and the people, and must not be allowed to collapse.

“We must be ready for recovery and maintain our tourism capacity as well as competitiveness in the region, ” he said.

Vaccinate tourism workers

MAH also proposed to the government to put the tourism and hospitality workforce on the immunisation programme’s priority list after frontliners – alongside high risk groups – to prepare and assure the world that Malaysia is ready to receive international tourists once the borders reopen.

That sentiment to vaccinate tourism workers is echoed by Oyo vice president (Malaysia & Singapore) Tan Ming Luk.

“With vaccine supply initially limited, availability to frontliners in essential sectors including hospitality will be critical for keeping the economy going and communities running, by protecting the personnel and reducing the likelihood of crippling clusters emanating from the workplace, ” he said.

According to Tan, the hospitality industry has not been idle during this pandemic.

“We have been supporting communities in Malaysia, providing places to rest for weary essential workers such as hospital workers, caregivers and first responders, as well as a temporary home base for those who live too far from their workplace, especially those who rely on public transportation with reduced service hours during ‘MCO 2.0’, ” he said.

Be serious, be competitive

In a separate development, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) has called on the government to take tourism industry stakeholders seriously – or the country will lose its competitive tourism edge.

“It is a known fact that the tourism growth in Asean countries was so much higher (before the pandemic), whereas international arrivals for Malaysia has been on the decline since 2014, ” said Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

Tan highlighted the fact that the National Tourism Policy 2020-2030, launched late last year, did not provide much impetus for a pandemic-hit tourism sector.

“Interestingly, the 143-page National Tourism Policy 2020-2030 did not address travel challenges under the new norm or provide any roadmap or a framework for the next three years to revitalise the tourism industry post Covid-19, ” he noted.

According to Tan, domestic travel, which is crucial for tourism recovery, was also not mentioned in the policy.

Tan added that the Tourism Industry Act 1992 needs to be updated accordingly too to keep the country’s tourism sector competitive amid Covid-19.

“Furthermore, the lack of enforcement, a problem that has not improved regardless of the government of the day, has allowed our industry to sicken and weaken – further reducing our capacity to compete regionally and to improve our services and product, ” he said.

Matta, said Tan, is ready to assist with tourism recovery efforts and advise on structural changes needed both in the public and private sector.

He added, however, that “the impetus of change lies in the hands of the government”.

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