Coronavirus hits tour operators


Reports by HEMANANTHANI SIVANANDAM, RAHIMY RAHIM, NURBAITI HAMDAN, JOSEPH KAOS Jr, ALLISON LAI, JUSTIN ZACK, CLARISSA CHUNG, CHEONG JIN WEI and NG ZHE QUN

KUALA LUMPUR:
Tour operators, facing cancellations by over 3,000 tour groups, are asking for soft loans from the Finance Ministry to tide them over during the current coronavirus crisis.

Malaysia Inbound Chinese Association (Mica) president Datuk Dr Angie Ng said many industry players, who mostly cater to inbound tourists from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, were grappling with cancellations.

“We have lost about 3,000 groups, mostly from mainland China, from Jan 28 to the end of March.

“There are still some groups from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan but the number is very low, ” said Ng at a press conference here yesterday.

She said Mica, which has about 200 members consisting of travel agents and other tourism service providers, were in a predicament because of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, which originated from Wuhan in Hubei province, China, and were looking for alternatives.

Ng said Mica hoped the ministry would provide soft loans that could help keep their business afloat until the situation improved.

“Otherwise tour guides and bus drivers would have to look for different jobs, ” she said.

Ng said that during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2003, many industry players lost their Chinese-speaking tour guides and some had to sell off their buses and coaches.

“Personally, it took my company nine months to recover after SARS.

I had about 40 tour guides but I lost about 40% of them during that time.

“So we have all learned from that experience. Training new staff takes time. We need to be prepared so that once things are settled, we should be able to cater to the tourist crowds coming in, ” she said.

Ng said Mica supported the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry’s move to restructure its Visit Malaysia 2020 promotion to focus on other markets besides China.

She has also advised Mica members to promote domestic tourism as well as other South-East Asian countries.

In a statement, the Finance Ministry said it had been tasked by the Cabinet with coming up with a stimulus package to counter the economic impact of the coronavirus, adding that it would be discussing with the relevant ministries – Economic Affairs, Tourism, Arts and Culture as well as International Trade and Industry – and stakeholders on the matter.

China represents 11% of Malaysia’s total tourist market share.

So far, Malaysia has banned flights from Hubei and temporarily suspended the issuance of visas to citizens from the province.

States like Sabah and Sarawak, which have autonomy on their immigration laws, have imposed a total ban on visitors from China.

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