KUALA LUMPUR: With the Chinese government issuing a lockdown for more than 30 cities, some Malaysian states reliant on Chinese tourist dollars are looking at alternative markets.
Mr Abdul Rashid Asari, the Selangor state executive councillor overseeing tourism told CNA that the state would be focusing on domestic tourism for now.
This is because domestic tourism is deemed to be a safer bet as it is less likely to be affected by travellers' fear factor, he said.
Since 2017, China has been the largest source of foreign tourists for Selangor. This is followed by Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and India, he revealed.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused some concerns especially for the Visit Malaysia 2020 initiative, he said. A state tourism contingency plan has been drafted and will be implemented upon approval in the following weeks, he added.
Citing a predictive data analytic study recently conducted by the State Tourism Exco’s Office, he said the overall international tourism sector (in-bound and out-bound) will be affected by the outbreak.
However, the state’s domestic tourism sector is expected to improve.
To date, the virus has killed more than 1,300 people and infected over 60,000 people around the world.
Malaysia thus far has a total of 19 confirmed cases.
The Malaysian government had on Jan 27 temporarily barred the entry of Chinese travellers originating from Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to Ministry of Tourism statistics, Malaysia sees up to three million tourists from China annually.
Mr Mohamaddin Ketapi, the tourism minister, said Malaysia would restructure Visit Malaysia 2020 promotion plans to shift its focus away from China. Malaysia would instead woo other markets, including Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia, according to the Star.
Meanwhile, some states told CNA that they are also looking to domestic tourism to tide them over during this period.
NATURE OF AIR TRAVEL A CONCERN DURING VIRUS OUTBREAK
Mr Abdul Rashid, the Selangor state executive councillor, said the nature of air travel is a major concern for those travelling when there is an outbreak.
For a start, travellers have to brace themselves to navigate airports where millions of people convene in close-proximity.
“Upon the completion of the check-in process, the travellers will have to board the airplanes which are enclosed areas and suffer close-proximity with strangers, not to mention sharing the lavatories.
“All these factors form a major concern to international tourists,” he noted.
In contrast, domestic tourism typically allows families to use their private vehicles and public transportation, he said, adding that the latter is primarily used by locals and therefore deemed less risky.
Over in Johor, Ms Liow Cai Tung, the state executive councillor overseeing tourism said she is fully aware of how tourism arrivals would be affected by the current situation.
Ms Liow noted that domestic tourism is encouraged as locals become more concerned about travelling overseas.
“It is a good time for domestic tourists to explore what Johor as the southern state of Malaysia has to offer,” she said, adding that the state has many attractions which are yet to be discovered even by Johoreans.
She said despite the outbreak and rising concerns of travelling, the state would proceed with promotion and publicity efforts as planned.
In Sabah, local business owners, travel companies as well hotels and restaurants have reportedly offered promotional packages to attract Malaysians.
A Malay Mail report said tour companies and five-star hotels have slashed their prices and formulated "staycation" packages with food and beverage thrown in to entice domestic tourists.
The Malaysian Association of Hotels reportedly said there have been 95,972 room cancellations nationwide since Jan 26, amounting to losses up to RM40 million (US$9.66 million).
STAYING THE COURSE
Other states such as Penang are sanguine that they can ride out the storm.
Mr Yeoh Soon Hin, Penang's state executive councillor overseeing tourism believes the impact of the novel coronavirus will be felt more acutely in the short term. He said Penang has a long term plan and will stay the course.
“The virus would affect the tourism industry as a whole, not only for us but throughout the world. However, Penang has been aggressively branding our tourism as a form of long term plan.
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“The appearance of the virus, undeniably, would raise many concerns on travelling but we believe that the effects would not be long term, as we hope that once the virus is under control, we would be able to see the confidence restored in the travellers to travel again when they feel safe,” he said.
China is among the top five arrivals for Penang last year according to Penang International Airport.
Mr Yeoh said that while precautions should not be taken lightly, the state will continue tourism promotion efforts that will ultimately bring long term benefits.
Additional reporting by Amir Yusof.