Cameron Highlands traders, restaurateurs say businesses suffering due to interstate travel ban

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Traders and restaurant owners here are hoping that the interstate travel ban is lifted soon as there are low instances of Covid-19 in the highlands.

They claimed that business had dropped by up to 90% since the movement control order was first implemented last year.

A strawberry farm owner who wished to be known as Raaju, 63, said he was considering planting vegetables at his farm if the interstate travel ban continued.

"Although Cameron Highlands is currently under a recovery MCO, not many people want to travel on tour buses, especially those with small families.

"We used to be able to sell up to 100,000kg a day of produce during weekends, but now we are barely able to sell 1,000kg," he said.

"To add to our problems, prices for fertilisers and polybags have increased steeply," he said, adding that he gave out the fresh produce for free during the first MCO.

"We barely survived during the first MCO. Our farm can produce up to three tonnes of strawberries at one time but since interstate and inter-district travel was not allowed, we had no choice but to give it to the locals.

"I have 10 workers and my family to feed. I have not taken my salary for three months because we want to make sure our workers are paid," he added.

Pahang, along with Perak, Perlis, Kedah, Putrajaya, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Terengganu, Sabah and Labuan will continue to be under the recovery MCO from April 1 to 14.

Cameron Highlands is currently categorised as a green zone with only 19 cumulative cases since last year.

Raaju said he hoped that there would be subsidies for farmers like him to help out with their business.

"With MCO still taking place and people not allowed to travel abroad, this is the right time for the government to promote local tourism spots and products.

"We still have business from our loyal customers who would order our produce in bulk but it would be better to have tourists coming here since we rely on them for business," he said.

A vegetable seller in Kea Farm, who wished to be known as Ann, said the travel ban has forced her to find new ways to sell her products.

"The majority of our customers are tourists.

"I had to sell my vegetables to other traders outside Cameron Highlands," the 55-year-old said.

"We just opened our shop some two weeks ago and although we have customers, the sales have dropped by 90%.

"I've even given away some vegetables to my neighbours for free but they still gave me money.

"They told me that they understand my struggle and that is their way to help me out," she added.

A visit to several tourist spots such as the Mardi Agri-Technology Park at Taman Sedia and Kea Farm saw tourists from Pahang taking advantage of being able to travel inter-district.

For Zulkifli Zahari, 61, a cafe co-owner at Taman Sedia said he had to put some plans on hold.

"We initially wanted to extend our operation hours until night where we planned to serve steamboat buffets for our customers.

"Since our customers mostly come from Kedah, Perak and Kuala Lumpur, we had no choice but to put a hold to the plan," he said.

Zulkifli said although business had been affected by the low number of tourists, they still had local customers.

"Since we also serve breakfast and lunch, we have up to 50 customers a day. Most of them are locals and people from Pahang.

"However, I do hope the government will help us more," he said, adding he hoped for it to be a more significant amount.

Ahmad Sharifuddin Hilmi, 32 who runs a rabbit farm in Tanah Rata, said despite school holidays taking place, the number of tourists was still small.

"Before the MCO, we could easily have between 150 and 200 visitors.

"Right now, we only get 50 people. Hopefully, the government will lift the interstate travel ban as it could benefit small businesses like mine," he said.

Restaurant owner HP Yan, 59, said many businesses have shut down as they relied on tourists.

"Although my business was affected due to the lack of tourists, I am still thankful to have the support of the locals here.

"I hope that once the interstate travel ban is lifted, the highlands will be crowded again," she said.

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