Tourism leaders planning to restart travel safely in Malaysia and nearby region

The island of Langkawi is the first tourism destination in Malaysia to reopen under the travel bubble programme. — AFP

Tourism leaders in the region recently met to plan the restart and recovery of the travel sector across Asia and the Pacific during joint meetings organised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

The virtual meetings, which were held under the chairmanship of Malaysia and the Maldives, came on the heels of a challenging year as most borders remain closed throughout the region.

UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili is optimistic that the tide will turn soon for the region’s tourism sector.

“The Asia Pacific region has a proven record as a dynamic tourism destination. With the right policy measures and strong coordination, destinations can start safely welcoming back international visitors, thereby allowing tourism to deliver on its potential as a driver of recovery and inclusive growth,” he said.

Member states that took part in the virtual meetings focused on the coordination of policy measures and strategies to accelerate the recovery of tourism activities in the region.

These include the phased lifting on travel restrictions and the introduction of travel corridors.

Moving forward, member states also agreed on the importance of upgrading the skills of the tourism labour force, as well as embracing innovation and digital transformation.

Slowly reopening

Meanwhile, Thailand has confirmed plans to reopen Bangkok to fully vaccinated travellers without quarantine requirements beginning Oct 15.

The delay from the initial plan to reopen Bangkok on Oct 1 was due to slow vaccine rollout. Currently, only 37% of residents in the metropolitan city have received two doses of the vaccine, which is below the government’s 70% vaccination target for reopening the country.

It is expected that that target will be reached by early October.

Closer to home, Malaysia recently began to test the domestic tourism waters with the Langkawi travel bubble programme.

The initiative, which allows full-vaccinated domestic tourists to visit the popular island in Kedah, has been a success so far, said Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri.

According to her, there were no Covid-19 cases recorded (at press time) among the tourists since its implementation on Sept 16.

“We can see the potential of Pulau Langkawi, which is the (pioneer) model, that has been a success,” she said in an interview on Bernama TV’s Malaysia Petang Ini programme.

More recently, it was reported that the government will discuss the possibility of allowing interstate travel to help revive domestic tourism.

Nancy said the ministry has identified several destinations including Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill that would attract tourists once interstate travel is allowed.

According to Nancy, reviving domestic tourism will improve the national economy as well.

She added that the estimated loss in tourism revenue last year stands at RM135bil.

More allocation

The pandemic has certainly hit the domestic travel landscape hard and the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) hopes more will be done for the industry in the upcoming Budget 2022.

It president Datuk Tan Kok Liang has urged Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz to do more to help tourism businesses.

“The Malaysian tourism industry is on the brink of total collapse and the Finance Ministry needs to be specific in its allocation to not only preserve tourism business and workers but to prepare and empower the industry for a major comeback,” he said in a statement.

Tan hopes the government will provide an extension to the wage subsidy programme, automatic bank loan moratorium and waiver of interest at least until the end of the year.

“The Finance Ministry needs to provide practical financial assistance beyond tax incentives or tax rebates or deferment of tax instalments which we are unable to benefit from because tourism companies have already accumulated tax losses in 2020 and 2021. By now, we have more than enough tax losses to offset any ‘so called forecasted profits’,” he said.

According to Tan, travel companies are at their wits’ end.

“Don’t ignore the industry now just because borders remain closed and because there is not much tourism activity. Our companies are in bad shape due to regulatory constraints imposed by the government while other countries are recovering at a faster rate in their battle against Covid-19,” he said.

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