Many Penang guesthouses to close for good

GEORGE TOWN: For a few hundred guesthouses and hostels here, the chance to dig into Penang’s multi-million-ringgit tourism industry pie is as good as over.

Unable to cope with the state government’s stringent licensing requirements, many have started closing down.

“Our dreams are over. It’s impossible to follow the government’s ruling,” said Menu Cafe and Lodge owner Jack Ong.

He was spotted yesterday bringing down his signboard.

After trying to meet halfway since 2014, the Penang government has cracked the whip on 266 guesthouse, hostel and small hotel operators, many of whom run lodgings fashioned out of pre-war houses in the heritage enclave.

State executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow said unlicensed hotels with temporary licences are getting a final extension – until next Oct 31 – to submit their building plans to apply for planning permission.

He said out of the 266 guesthouses, only 99 submitted the necessary plans. Only six passed everything and received permanent licence.

He warned that city council enforcers would tear down the premises of new operators who did not qualify for temporary licences from now on. The operators would be taken to court under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976.

“Those without the temporary licences will have to follow the stringent procedures under the George Town Special Area Plan (SAP),” Chow told a press conference in Komtar yesterday.

The recently gazetted SAP does not allow new budget accommodations to be licensed in the heritage enclave. Only boutique and starred hotels are permitted in specific streets.

Chow said the state government was not destroying guesthouse businesses but operators should comply with the rules.

“Come with your planner, architect and the premises owner to consult the city council, heritage conservation body and Fire and Rescue Department before starting a guesthouse business,” he said.

Clockwise Place hostel owner Teresa Hii, who closed her business yesterday, called the temporary licence a “disillusionment”.

“If I never had a chance to get a permanent licence in the first place, the government should not have given me false hope with a temporary one.

“They should have told me and my partner before we spent over RM200,000 on renovations,” she said tearfully.

Hii, 32, said she started the hostel in 2012 with her partner. They rented their Stewart Lane pre-war premises without realising that, like many such houses, it was zoned for residential purposes only.

The property owner was not interested in re-zoning it for commercial use.