Tourism bubble in M'sia helps sector but won't guarantee 'zero' Covid-19 cases


The travel landscape in Malaysia has to be opened one way or another – and a tourism bubble is the kind of stepping stone the embattled industry needs right now.

Tourism industry players in the country say an initiative like that would provide a light at the end of the tunnel for operators that have struggled to stay afloat amid the pandemic.

"It should provide a lifeline to the industry as it can no longer sustain purely on government subsidies," says Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng.

"While it is not expected to generate much in the beginning, it needs to be able to provide sufficient motivation for the industry to restart," he adds.

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Yap's comments came following the government's proposal of turning Langkawi into a pilot project for the tourism bubble, once the island has reached 80% vaccination rate for its population.

Travellers allowed to visit Langkawi will be limited to individuals who have completed their vaccination.

The government is studying the possibility of turning Langkawi into a pilot project for the tourism bubble before it reopens the country. — Tourism MalaysiaThe government is studying the possibility of turning Langkawi into a pilot project for the tourism bubble before it reopens the country. — Tourism Malaysia

Not a foolproof plan

It is, however, important to note that tourism bubbles are not without its faults, says Yap.

"We have learnt from other similar initiatives such as the Phuket Sandbox (in Thailand), and it is crucial to understand that the initiative is not meant to be foolproof – it is not meant to be perfect.

"It will not guarantee zero Covid-19 cases (whether in or out), but what it is, instead, is an exit plan to live with Covid-19, having understood that it will not go away," he explains.

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The Phuket Sandbox programme, which was launched on July 1, allows foreign tourists who are fully vaccinated to visit the island. However, the programme has also contributed to a flare up of Covid-19 cases in Thailand.

The Phuket Sandbox programme, which was launched on July 1, allows foreign tourists who are fully vaccinated to visit the island. — JACK TAYLOR/AFPThe Phuket Sandbox programme, which was launched on July 1, allows foreign tourists who are fully vaccinated to visit the island. — JACK TAYLOR/AFP

The resort island reported 125 new Covid-19 cases during the week ending July 27, higher than the government-set threshold of 90 weekly cases.

Yap says countries should come to terms with coronavirus cases linked to the reopening of any sector of economy.

"We must be able to accept a threshold percentage of Covid-19 cases from it, and contingency measures prepared in advance to deal with it that would minimise local risks. This is the only way to move forward," he says.

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