THE southwest district of Penang where tourists would usually visit to get up close with nature and the local community is not drawing in visitors despite homestays now allowed to open.
Teluk Bahang Homestay manager Rozita Omar, who oversees 11 homestay units near the Penang National Park, said since reopening two weeks ago, there had been no bookings.
“We are offering a 20% discount off the usual rates and each stay comes with free breakfast.
“Four of our units are private rooms with their own entrance while seven other units are within the same house.
“Although some tourist attractions here are still closed, visitors can relax within the quiet neighbourhood next to the beach.
“Villagers here are ready to assist in all their needs and for them to learn more about us,” she said.
Rozita said stricter standard operating procedures (SOP) for the homestays were introduced to instil confidence among guests such as frequent sanitising of the rooms and limiting the number of guests to each room.
“No more crowding is allowed and the number of guests allowed for each room is according to its size and number of beds,” she said.
Despite poor response from visitors, she was grateful to be allowed to reopen.
“Our guests are usually made up of 40% foreign tourists and 60% locals from other states.
“Hopefully locals living here would support us as their stay would mean added income for villagers.
“Many of us here who help out to clean and manage the homestays are housewives whose husbands are low-income earners such as fishermen,” she said.
Over at Pulau Betong, Desa Lestari Homestay Pulau Betong chairman Amir Yusoff said the homestay operators there decided to remain closed until Covid-19 tapers off.
“All 11 homestay units sharing with families and 10 homestay units of individual houses have remained closed since March last year.“The high number of Covid-19 cases is the main concern for us to remain closed although it is a big burden to maintain the properties after almost two years.
“The surroundings need to be cleaned frequently and buildings need to be kept in good order as they’re part of the village we live in,” he said.
Amir said to prevent further losses, some owners temporarily turned their homestay units into rented houses.
“We used to charge guests RM90 per person which includes a welcoming ceremony and at least four meals daily.
“They get to experience our lifestyle and we would receive an average of nine days of occupancy every month before the movement control order (MCO) came into effect.
“Private houses are rented at a charge of between RM150 and RM450 per night.
“Without this income during the pandemic, owners suffer a huge loss of income,” he said.
The community however plans to revive the homestay business once the pandemic eases.
“We will offer durian season promotions as the village is surrounded by durian orchards.
“Events such as cycling and traditional bazaars will be held to attract urbanites seeking relief away from the hustle and bustle of city life,” he said.
Among the homestay operators who chose to remain closed is retired teacher Rosle Othman, 59, who had spent RM60,000 to build a twin homestay unit behind his house.
“Many customers have called to book but I am reluctant.
“As this is a bonus income for me, safety of other villagers and my family is of utmost priority at the moment.
“Without the income, we just have to spend wisely.
“When I reopen, we will filter our guests and interview them before approving their bookings,” he said.
The Government had announced that tourism activities involving homestays and hotels within the same state for those fully vaccinated is allowed for states under Phase Two and beyond of the National Recovery Plan.