Total lockdown: 'Dying' tourism sector in Malaysia needs help to protect jobs

As the country moved into total lockdown, popular tourist hotspots are bound to be deserted once more. — ART CHEN/The Star

In the wake of the total lockdown in the country, local tourism stakeholders have urged the government to provide support to keep businesses afloat and sustain the industry in the long run.

A total lockdown, according to players in the tourism and hospitality sector, is necessary to curb the alarming spike of Covid-19 cases. This measure, however, must be tempered by relevant assistance to sustain the industry.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) honorary treasurer Faeez Fadhlillah said the local travel sector has always supported the government throughout the pandemic, and hopes that the government will do the same to help save a dying industry that employs millions.

“The key to managing this crisis lies with proper coordination between the government and the private sector to ensure we can get through this with the most minimal impact and as painless as possible," he said.

As part of the country's total lockdown, all economic and social sectors – except essential economic and service sectors listed by the National Security Council – are closed throughout the country.

Hotels are allowed to open, but only for the purpose of quarantine and isolation. Business operations for tourism purposes is not allowed.

This first phase of the lockdown begins on June 1 and will last until June 14. A further second or third phase may follow, depending on the Covid-19 situation.

Massive losses

The tourism industry and related economic activities in the country, according to Faeez, have suffered losses of over RM100bil in total since the start of the pandemic last year.

"Tourist arrivals to Malaysia fell by 83.4% in 2020 with Malaysia’s tourist receipts also plunging by 85.3% from RM86.14bil in 2019 to RM12.69bil last year. Most of the tourists, or 4.23 million in 2020, arrived before the borders were shut on March 18," he said.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) reported that the hospitality sector recorded a loss of over RM6.53bil for the year of 2020.

Hotels in the country also suffer an estimated loss of RM300mil for every two weeks of the movement control order. Loss of revenue for the hotel industry this year to date, according to MAH, easily adds up to RM5bil, making it worse than last year.

MAH chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng said the government needs to step in to help the industry mitigate some of these losses. The lives 3.6 million people employed in the industry, he said, is at stake due to the Covid-19 pandemic."

Government must also do its best in ensuring businesses are supported throughout the period," he said.

Help needed to survive

Following the announcement of the total lockdown, stakeholders have put in a slew of requests to reduce the burden on the domestic travel industry.

Matta, on its part, is requesting for the government to implement five initiatives to cushion the economic risks of the lockdown.

These include automatic loan moratorium, wage subsidies extension until year end, cancellation of the Travel & Tour Enhancement Course (TTEC) and financial assistance for travel agents affected by the continuous movement control order and closure of state and international borders.

The association also calls for a clear tourism recovery roadmap for the eventual revival of the industry.

"Matta is calling for the government to come up with a tourism recovery roadmap together with the private sector as there is a desperate need for the travel industry to plan and strategise for the future of the travel industry.

"This includes a clear framework and time frame when both domestic, as well as international borders, can reopen, one that clearly outlines the conditions under which our borders can begin to reopen," said Faeez.

Some of the demands laid out by Matta was also reiterated by the hospitality sector, namely by MAH and Malaysia Budget & Business Hotel Association (MyBHA).

MyBHA national deputy president Sri Ganesh Michiel said assistance from the federal and state governments as well public and private agencies is vital to assist the battered industry.

"It will, to some extent, give more effective impact towards efforts to ensure the hotel and tourism industry survives without any employment layoffs or business closures," Ganesh said.

MyBHA requested for a review of the water, electricity and Internet tariffs and incentives, among others.

"We understand the economic problems and constraints faced by the government but the implementation of some actions (proposed by MyBHA) will be able to help the hotel and tourism industry to survive," Ganesh said.

MAH's Yap said the current wage subsidy programme needs to be re-examined.

"Enhancement to the wage subsidy programme is long overdue, and banks must play its part too by giving automatic full moratorium at zero interest to assist the government in ensuring the survival of businesses," he said.

Yap also said businesses unable to cope with operating and payroll costs should be given leeway on statutory payments during the lockdown. Such a move, he said, will help employers "protect jobs of the people" during these challenging times.

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