AS much of the world starts to ease Covid-19 travel restrictions, Malaysia too is moving towards opening up its borders to tourists from “green zone” countries.
It will be a big boost for the country’s tourism industry, which has been badly hit since we closed our borders following the enforcement of the movement control order on March 18.
Tourism is among the key economic growth sectors in Malaysia.
It contributes around RM94.5bil to the GDP in 2018. The industry employs about 3.5 million Malaysians.
The pandemic definitely delivered a big blow to Malaysia’s tourism industry when we closed our borders to foreign tourists to stop the spread of the virus.
We even had to cancel Visit Malaysia 2020.
On Friday, at the 36th Asean Summit, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Asean governments must quickly come up with a cohesive plan to implement “travel bubbles” between “green” member states.
Muhyiddin said easing travel restrictions between countries with low Covid-19 infections can help shore up investments and create job opportunities for people in the region.
Malaysia is in discussion with “green” countries such as Singapore, Brunei and Japan that it would like to open its borders to post-Covid-19.
Tourism industry players hope that three more countries are added to the list – Thailand, Vietnam and China.
Our tourism sector is expected to get a much-needed boost especially when Malaysia and Singapore open our borders to each other.
Singaporeans, with 10,163,882 arrivals, were the top foreign tourists visiting Malaysia in 2019. The tourist receipts went to shopping, accommodation and food and beverages.
However, as Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah cautioned, we should not rush to reopen our borders. After all, one of the contributors to our success story in managing Covid-19 is our decision to tighten our border control.
Perhaps a gradual and staggered approach, as some experts have suggested, can be adopted.
And while we welcome the tourist dollar, strict standard operating procedure (SOP) should be implemented and enforced to prevent a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We must also have strict SOP with our partnering countries covering transport, hotels, restaurants, tourism spots and other related services to ensure that we can travel safely.
This will require the cross-border cooperation of various agencies of participating nations, including the health ministries, local councils, immigration authorities and airport operators.
Ultimately, for the travel bubbles to work, trust between countries is vital.
And for this each one of us will have a role to play.
Everybody must not only comply with the SOP agreed on, but also be honest about their health status, especially the tourists themselves.
Malaysia will need to strike a balance between the well-being of our tourism industry and the health of the people.
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