Pandemic strikes thriving tourist spot

No visitors, no traders: The famous Chew Jetty in Weld Quay has been empty since the MCO.

GEORGE TOWN: Once a thriving tourist spot, the scenic Chew Jetty with closely built wooden houses in Weld Quay now looks empty and deserted.

Some 20 stall operators selling trinkets and souvenirs along the narrow wooden walkways have closed for good as there were hardly any tourists since the movement control order (MCO) was enforced on March 18.

Trader Lee Kah Lai, 44, said many of her peers could not survive the bad times due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She has been selling handmade bangles, postcards and souvenirs there for the past 20 years.

“I am grateful that I am still surviving during the MCO as I do not have to pay rent for this family business. We should have made good business during Chinese New Year and Hari Raya but due to the outbreak, the people were not coming.

“We hope that a vaccine can be produced as soon as possible so that life can go on and business can pick up again. We depend on tourists to get income and when the tourism industry is battered by the pandemic, we became the victims.

“I was told that some 20 traders who rented stalls here had stopped their business as they could not afford it anymore,” she said when met at the jetty.

Brisk business: Tourists browsing souvenir stalls at the Chew Jetty in George Town in this 2019 file photo.Brisk business: Tourists browsing souvenir stalls at the Chew Jetty in George Town in this 2019 file photo.

Another trader, Chew Kok Wah, 52, said his business had been hit hard by the global pandemic.

“It’s zero income since the MCO was implemented. Previously, we had local tourists from other states during weekends.

“There would always be huge crowds during school holidays, public holidays and long weekends. This is the first time we do not have any tourists at all.

“We are also confused over the standard operating procedure (SOP), as we are unsure of how many tourists can be allowed here and how to control the tourist flow.

“We are worried for our safety and health as well as for our customers’,” he said.

Fruit tea and milk tea trader Andrew Chew, 44, said business was at its worst now.

“We have had no tourists at all since the MCO was enforced in March.

“June to September has always been the peak season as Chinese tourists will come to Penang for durians.

“I have decided to open my shop although there is zero business as I do not want to lose hope just yet,” he said.

George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee said the pandemic had impacted businesses of all kinds, from hawkers to operators of souvenir shops, hotels, small medium industries, as well as cultural professionals and practitioners.

“To mitigate the negative impact of Covid-19 on the heritage sites, in particular the livelihood of our people, GTWHI will be launching new projects and incentives to bolster the cultural heritage sector.

“We want to assist the cultural heritage practitioners, local businesses and George Town living heritage in the face of the new normal.

“We aim to help the community in mastering the skills for e-commerce, adjust their products and explore their market in the digital world.

“We will be recommending sustainable tourism strategies, such as expanding the local community’s capacity in e-commerce, instilling confidence in tourists on the safety precautions taken at tourist sites and diversifying visitors’ groups by emphasising on the domestic market in the Tourism Penang Next Normal Task Force,” she said.

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