Malaysia's tourism industry braces for long road to recovery despite the resumption of interstate travel

Malaysia's tourism industry braces for long road to recovery despite the resumption of interstate travel

Analysts predict that the country's travel industry would take at least a year to recover from COVID-19.

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State borders were allowed to open from June 10. (File photo: Bernama)

KUALA LUMPUR: Although the Malaysian government has allowed domestic tourism to resume, industry players are expecting a slow pace of recovery as people remain wary of travelling due to COVID-19. 

Casa Del Mar Resort in Langkawi told CNA that although there have been many enquiries since the lifting of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) on Jun 10, it was still struggling to meet its usual occupancy levels.

“Our main support is from our guests in Europe and although we have support from local guests, the numbers are not as many," said front office manager Vinud Athithan. 

“Until the (international) borders open, it is going to be difficult to go back to where we were, but we will try and keep going because that will take a long time,” he said.

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Casa Del Mar Resort in Langkawi. (Photo: Casa Del Mar)

A front office manager from Hard Rock Hotel in Penang also said despite a surge of enquiries from domestic travellers, the hotel does not expect to meet the pre-MCO occupancy levels for a long time to come.

“I cannot give you a fixed percentage, but a large number of our guests are from overseas. Europe, China, Singapore and all. So now with borders closed, the recovery will be very very slow.

“Thankfully, we do have a good number of Malaysian guests who support our establishment as well, so that is keeping us going,” said the manager who did not want to be named.

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According to a Tourism Malaysia survey published in April, 50.9 per cent of 13,797 respondents felt that travelling within the country would be safer after the MCO. In addition, 71.3 per cent of those surveyed said they would opt for domestic trips rather than holidays abroad.

Malaysia is currently in the recovery phase of the MCO, which is scheduled to last until Aug 31.

Zoo Negara's deputy president Rahmat Ahmat Lana also told CNA that he expects the recovery in visitor numbers to be slow.

“As the economy recovers, we expect the numbers to grow slowly. Yet we also expect it to stabilise to some type of normalcy as the public would definitely want to visit the zoo with their families," he said.

To encourage people to visit the zoo, it is running a promotion from Jun 13 to Jun 20, during which the first 100 visitors daily can get tickets for one year of unlimited entry, he said.

READ: Malaysia's Q1 GDP unexpectedly expands, seen contracting this quarter

"WE JUST CANNOT RISK IT"

Travellers interviewed by CNA also said that they would not rush into booking trips for now.

Diving instructor Aaron Tan said although the state borders have reopened, he would not be making any dive trips in the near future.

“I am honestly craving to be underwater. It is what I do for a living, but when I go on these trips, we take a whole batch of people with us and we just cannot risk it. It is not worth it at all,” he said. 

Asked if he would wait for a vaccine before travelling, Mr Tan said he would most likely wait for about six months before he makes his next trip.

“For now, my open water divers can’t go because we cannot do pool training. So we have to wait regardless.

“Now that cases have reduced tremendously in Malaysia, it is a matter of time before things improve further. We just need to be patient for a while. Vaccine would be too long a wait though,” he said.

Previously, the Health Ministry's director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that it would take anything between one year and 18 months before a vaccine is on the market.

READ: Malaysia’s AirAsia to resume all domestic routes from July

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Travellers are worried about places that do not comply with health protocols. (File photo: Bernama)

Travel blogger Farah Nadiah added that she would only be comfortable travelling if destinations and tourism establishments complied with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as spelt out by the authorities.

“The situation in Malaysia is pretty much under control so as to allow for domestic travel. Waiting for a vaccine will be waiting for an unknown.

“So long as preventive measures and the new normal SOPs are adhered to, I believe that domestic travel is safe. Business travel is definitely happening, whether one likes it or not,” she said. 

REDUCED OPERATING CAPACITY

Amazing Borneo Marketing Director Khay Inn Poh said although their north Borneo cruises were restarted last week, the capacity has been reduced to 50 per cent to comply with social distancing. 

“We are still expecting our sales to be affected ... We have rolled out local promotions. We hope that can help," she said. 

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North Borneo sunset cruise. (Photo: Amazing Borneo)

She said that in the past, the cruises typically operated at around 70 per cent to 80 per cent capacity, or close to 200 people per trip. However, sales are not expected to hit this level for now. 

"People are just more wary to travel” she added.

The travel agency, who also organises trips to Mount Kinabalu, noted that the number of climbers permitted has been reduced. 

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Mount Kinabalu Trail. (Photo: Amazing Borneo)

“Previously 185 climbers were allowed a day. Now only 100 climbers are allowed. 

“International demand is obviously higher but now that borders are (still) closed, we are fully banking on domestic travellers,” Ms Khay said. 

RECOVERY WOULD TAKE AT LEAST A YEAR: ANALYSTS

Given the current situation, analysts predict that Malaysia’s tourism sector would need at least one year to recover from COVID-19.

Sunway University economics professor Yeah Kim Leng said although tourism activities have been allowed to resume, restaurants and hotels would still be hit by the cost of compliance.

“The Standard Operating Procedures would hinder their business. Yes, the recovery would be small, but at the same time, what we are likely to see is a very gradual pace of recovery.

“There will still be casualties in businesses due to insufficient volumes, so if anything, the steps right now are only stopping the bleeding (of the tourism sector) after it has been hit by COVID-19,” he said.

Dr Yeah added that the next few months will be critical in determining the direction of the tourism industry, as the number of COVID-19 cases would affect the confidence of travellers.

READ: Malaysia’s latest stimulus package provides huge relief but is only enough until May, a commentary

The economist however also said that losses would continue to mount for many hotels and major tourist spots that depend on international tourism.

“The reality is simple, even if the borders open, people are not going to travel immediately. So the revenue from international tourism is something which is unlikely to be substituted.

“International tourism would be the last sector to recover and it would take between one to two years, given that the pandemic is still fairly evident in other countries,” he said.

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Zoo Negara has rolled out promotions to attract more visitors. (File photo: Bernama)

Similarly, Socio-Economic Research Centre's (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie noted that COVID-19 has severely affected the tourism industry.

“Take hotels for example, the occupancy rate is only at 20 per cent. Although the association of hotels is projecting occupancy to go up slowly between June and December, it will not be more than 30 per cent.

“Most importantly, the confidence to travel is going to take some time. If you want a stronger support catalyst, that has to come from international tourism and that as we know is going to take some time,” he said.

Previously, Malaysia had planned to implement a Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign.

Launched on Dec 31, 2019, VM2020 had targeted 30 million visitor arrivals and RM100 billion in revenue. It was cancelled when the MCO was implemented on Mar 18.

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Source: CNA/kd(aw)

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