KOTA KINABALU: Tourism players in Sabah are urging for an extension of stimulus assistance packages and fund injections to ensure sustainability of the industry and its players amidst a huge drop in business due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said apart from boosting travellers’ confidence by adopting strict hygiene standards, it was also vital to ensure continuous cash flow for the players.
He said the provision of financial relief to ease cash flow, especially on the wage subsidy and employment retention programme appears ineffective.
"With the recovery movement control order (RMCO) extended to August 31, and restrictions on the easing of border-crossing, the majority of small and medium (SME) tourism companies that specialise in foreign inbound tourists, transportation, ticketing and outbound tourism have had zero revenue for six months, ” he said.
"It is likely to take at least 12 to 24 months for containment, stabilisation and recovery before people and businesses can return to normalcy," Tan said during a recent Tourism Engagement Session attended by Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew.
He pressed for a further enhancement of the financial assistance package "as businesses are struggling to survive due to severe cash flows, absence or a sharp dip in revenue, and high overhead expenses."
He hoped that the State Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment can provide direct funding to Sabah-based tour operators.
Tan also called for an extension of the stimulus package that provides temporary relief for B40s and to address the issue of staff retention and to prevent over a million tourism employees from losing their jobs.
On domestic tourism, he emphasised the importance of consistent communication with travellers to ensure that it is safe to travel locally, adding the market segment is targeted at the 1.2 mil civil servants in the country.
He said though insufficient, domestic travel is needed to invigorate the whole economy through spin-off effects in the value chain.
“To make things happen, we need smart partnership with airlines, hotels and tourism companies in providing affordable airfares and flexibility in bookings and reservations, and coming up with attractive tour packages, ” Tan said.
He said as nations look to ease travel restrictions, travel bubble concepts can be explored starting with safe travelling routes with Asean countries that have effectively contained the spread of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, MATTA Sabah Chapter Chairman Lawrence Chin proposed a RM10,000 direct fund injection for Sabah-based licensed companies to defray urgent overhead payments as a 'gesture of goodwill' and encouragement.
According to Chin, tour operators and travel agencies are still maintaining their staff despite businesses being badly hit since March 18, with the hope that the travel industry will rebound by 2021.
The Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents proposed that for starters, a charter flight be organised to bring in Chinese entrepreneurs and cultural and Chinese associations from China to kick-start international tourism.
Its president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw said this would be one way to convince the world that it is safe to travel to Sabah.
He also suggested that the loan moratorium period be extended for another six months while urging the government to consider providing direct injection of funds in the form of a subsidy or grant to owners of travel agencies.
Liew, who is also the State Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, said she will bring these concerns raised to the attention of the Sabah government.