TWENTY-three budget hotels throughout Malaysia have been selected by the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) to serve as quarantine centres for Malaysians returning from abroad.
Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (MyBHA) president Emmy Suraya Hussein said the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac) had approached it earlier this month looking for hotels located near the country’s air, land and sea entry points in view of setting up quarantine centres.
“We hope the government will only allow licensed establishments to function as quarantine centres.
“The hotels enlisted will receive guests who have been screened by the Health Ministry and classified as ‘green’ patients. This means they are from the low-risk category and need to be quarantined, ” she said.
Emmy Suraya added that hotels were listed as essential services during the movement control order (MCO) period following consultations between Motac and the National Security Council (MKN). However, she said check-ins were only allowed for frontliners and foreign tourists as well as business travellers who were in the country prior to the MCO.
“This narrow market segment can only occupy 10% of the 46,000 budget hotel rooms throughout Malaysia, which is not an encouraging figure.
“The extra stimulus package from the government to enable budget hotels to offer its properties as quarantine centres will help, ” she said.
MyBHA Kuala Lumpur chapter chairman Kenneth Oh said the industry was willing to assist as this was a form of national service.
“We understand the authorities may need a hotel with at least 100 rooms for them to mobilise their medical and back-up teams in a more cost-effective manner.
“Budget hotels may only have 50 rooms with limited facilities so they cannot accommodate the large numbers of returning Malaysians in one place.
“When room space is scarce, they can consider us, ” said Oh.
In Sepang, Jalal Nawi, who runs a 26-room budget hotel owned by Koperasi Pengangkutan Putrajaya Cyberjaya Bhd, said the hotel was selected as a quarantine centre due to its close proximity to Putrajaya and KL International Airport (KLIA).
However, the hotels have yet to receive their first batch of occupants.
“We are on standby. Once a hotel is gazetted as a quarantine centre, it cannot accept walk-in customers, ” said Jalal.
From a consumer’s point of view, group administrator for Malaysia Quarantine Centre Support Group on Facebook Suzanne Lee said the main concerns were that the rooms remained clean, had attached bathrooms and reliable Internet connectivity.
The page provides incoming travellers with on-ground information on quarantine procedures.
“Those in quarantine must not be crammed with four to a room, and beds only inches from each other.
“For budget hotels, the absence of windows might be distressing when one is confined for 14 days, ” said Lee.
MyBHA Trade and Commerce Bureau chairman Andy Lau said hotels were equipped to cater to guests compared to stadiums and dormitories that had to be partitioned and furnished.
Additional food catering and cleaning arrangements would have to be thought of when considering stadiums and dormitories as quarantine centres, Lau said. However, Ong Chee Long who has five budget hotels, had mixed feelings about opening his establishments as quarantine centres.
“Business has dropped by 95%. Even if the hotel industry recovers, it will not be back to normal for the next six months.
“It is good if I can save my business by agreeing to be a quarantine centre, but unlike hospital staff, my workers are not trained for this. I also fear for their health and safety, ” said Ong.
Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng said there were approximately 23,000 rooms from the number of gazetted hotels turned quarantine centres; which was less than 10% of the room inventory in the country.
“We have to consider the need at entry points only. If we put aside proximity or distance to entry points, we could potentially source another 5,000 rooms, ” he said.
He added that MAH did not know the number of rooms already occupied but was told Nadma was handling this daily and the numbers depended on arrivals.
Yap said the two main criteria for effective quarantine centres were level of control and level of comfort for the guests.
“Hotels fulfil both exceptionally well as a centralised location for large number of returnees with sufficient security preparedness in most hotels such as CCTV, floor isolation and having support staff who are trained to deliver needed services at above average hygiene and cleanliness levels, ” he said.
He added that hotels’ confidence was gained when told that guests were restricted by law from leaving the room, and that the hotels need not provide housekeeping or laundry services to the guests.
“With the support of the Health Ministry in managing quarantine centres, hotels can fulfil the requirements better, ” he said.
Yap said when MAH initially reached out to the hotels, many had doubts but it was mainly due to lack of understanding.
“Once we clarified most of the issues with the relevant authorities, we were able to convince our members to participate in the initiative despite the low budget of RM150 per room per night, inclusive of three meals, ” he added.
Importantly, he said on a daily basis, hotels were sanitising public areas and touchpoints such as railings and door knobs frequently.
For this purpose, hotels will be notified if any of the guests test positive for Covid-19, and those who tested positive would be immediately removed by the ministry. The room will then be disinfected.
He said hotels were planning ahead to ensure all efforts to clean and sanitise the property was done and documented according to the ministry’s and industry’s best practices.
“Current guests staying at the hotels under the quarantine period will be the hotel’s best future ambassadors.
“At the industry level, MAH is also planning a ‘Clean & Safe Malaysia’ campaign where hotels that fulfil a set of requirements will be certified Clean and Safe, endorsed by the relevant authorities, ” he said.