PETALING JAYA: The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has caused a big blow to the tourism trade, slashing domestic travel by some 60% since the SARS issue first surfaced in the country.
Based on the latest feedback from members of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agencies (Matta), the number of travellers from China has also dropped to near zero while arrivals from Hong Kong and Taiwan were down by 90%.
Matta members also reported an 80% drop in Singaporean arrivals, which is the number one market for the country.
Other markets experienced an average of 50% reduced business volume. Even outbound businesses have contracted by 70%.
The worrying trend of business slowdown in the industry prompted Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to call on companies and corporations to bring forward their planned functions to fill hotels and restaurants.
In a related response, the Penang government said it had drawn up a massive tourism promotion campaign to get people to visit its natural and scenic sites, where the surroundings and the air are clean.
The Matta report, based on a feedback from members to assess the impact of the SARS outbreak, had dashed the industry’s hope to fall back on domestic tourism in the face of a drastic drop in foreign arrivals.
The campaign to promote Cuti-Cuti Malaysia has not drawn the desired result in the face of the SARS threat, it said.
“Domestic tourism is affected because there is confusion over the disease and lack of confidence among the locals about their chances of contracting it through travelling.
“The fear of travel has extended to even movement within the country. There is also fear about being in a group,” said Matta secretary-general Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun.
Based on government statistics, tourism has, for two consecutive years, ranked as the second highest foreign ex-change earner, after manufacturing.
Last year’s tourist arrivals touched 13.1 million and brought in RM26.41bil, with close to RM9bil contributed via shopping.
Domestic tourism generates much smaller revenue. In 1999, revenue stood at RM4bil.
China, Hong Kong and Taiwan collectively generated about RM29.4mil in business per month from tour package fees, and each traveller spent an estimated RM1,500 during a five-day tour.
Matta proposed that the Government introduce soft loans of up to RM250,000 to cash-strapped tour and travel agents to tide over the current crisis, provide tax incentives or subsidies for agencies to participate in travel promotions and advertise in the media.
In Ipoh, V.P. SUJATA reports that government agencies, corporations, non-governmental organisations and associations can help boost the hotel industry by holding more functions, as advised by the Acting Prime Minister.
Abdullah said one way was to bring forward all events that were planned later in the year.
“Occupancy rates at local hotels have dropped badly due to SARS and the only way to help the hotels financially is to hold more functions there, such as seminars, courses and other programmes like the family day.
“Such functions will lead to booking of rooms for participants and use of the conference rooms,” he said adding that circulars would be sent to government agencies to urge them to hold functions at hotels.
Abdullah was speaking to reporters after the Perak Umno liaison committee meeting yesterday.
Besides encouraging people to hold more functions, Abdullah said hotels on their part should introduce competitive rates.
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