Muted response on first day of Langkawi international travel bubble
The Malaysian authorities have just issued the health protocols for the pilot project and industry players are hoping that more tourists will come next month.
KUALA LUMPUR: Pulau Langkawi might have been reopened for international travel on Monday (Nov 15) under a travel bubble project, but foreign tourists were few and far between.
This was unlike the wave of tourists to the resort island in Kedah when a domestic travel bubble was implemented back in September.
Although the Langkawi international travel bubble was announced last month, the detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were only spelt out by the authorities on Monday.
Langkawi Development Authority’s (LADA) chief executive officer Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib told CNA that as the SOPs have just only been issued, they can now proceed to inform their overseas agents, tourism offices as well as the airlines about the travel packages available.
Under the pilot project, all international tourists have to go through travel agents to visit the island.
Currently, there are no direct international flights into Langkawi.
“For this month and early December, the tourists will have to fly in through the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). We are expecting the earlier direct flights only at the end of the year because there will be some planning needed,” said Mr Nasaruddin.
LADA is responsible for tourism development in Langkawi, as well as other infrastructure, industry and trade matters.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis hoped that international tourists would start coming in by next month.
“We are preparing and are in the marketing phase now. We are hoping to attract those who will be having winter,” he said.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob had announced last month that Langkawi would reopen on Nov 15 to fully vaccinated international tourists, under the project which targeted fully vaccinated, and high-yield individuals.
Mr Nasaruddin of LADA said Langkawi had received 3.9 million visitors in 2019. Out of this, about 1.9 million were international tourists.
He added that with international and domestic travel curbs due to the pandemic, the number had fallen last year, with only 1.9 million visitors for the whole of last year.
Mr Nasaruddin said that tourism contributed 80 per cent to Langkawi’s economy, with the industry employing a workforce of more than 50,000 people.
He said that prior to the pandemic, there were only a few direct international flights into Langkawi, with most tourists travelling through KLIA.
Malaysian Association of Hotels (Kedah and Perlis) chairman Eugene Dass added that it was still too early for hotels to expect international tourists to come in, as there was still a lack of certainty.
“Maybe not many know the island is opening or there are still cross border issues. As of now, they are not rushing to come in,” he said.
He said that the current hotel occupancy rate is about 50 per cent. He expects this figure to rise to more than 60 per cent in December.
Mr Dass said they were hoping for travellers from the region to visit the island, especially Singaporeans who have a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) agreement in place with Malaysia that will begin on Nov 29.
Under the VTL between Changi Airport and KLIA, fully vaccinated travellers will be subjected to COVID-19 tests in lieu of serving quarantine or stay-home notice.
While those visiting via the Langkawi international travel bubble would not be subject to any quarantine period, their stay would have to last at least three days, and they have to take a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test 72 hours prior to their departure to Langkawi.
Those arriving via KLIA would have to undergo rapid molecular testing upon arrival, while travellers heading straight to Langkawi would undergo a RT-PCR test for COVID-19 on their second day after arrival.
These travellers are also required to be insured for a minimum of US$80,000.
The pilot project, which would initially last for three months, will allow the Health Ministry and National Security Council to evaluate its effectiveness before expanding the scheme to other tourism islands and destinations.
Langkawi was first opened to domestic travellers in a pilot travel bubble beginning Sep 16, months after an interstate travel ban was imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections. The interstate travel ban was later lifted on Oct 11.
Since the reopening of Langkawi in Sep, Mr Nasaruddin said that about 304,000 tourists had travelled there.
Malaysia reported 5,143 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. There are now more than 2.5 million cases nationally.
In the past few days, health authorities have warned that the caseload could increase further as the infectivity rate of the disease or R0 had increased to more than 1.0.
They have also stressed the importance of getting COVID-19 booster shots, saying that immunity wanes off over time.