JOHOR BAHRU: Once bustling with visitors and tourists, Johor Bahru is quieter these days as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least one hotel has shut down for good, while shopping malls look deserted, with some shops remaining shuttered.
Commercial activities in Malaysia have been greatly impacted across the board since the government instituted the movement control order (MCO) beginning Mar 18 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
While green light was given for most businesses to resume operations in early May, those dependent on tourists and visitors find themselves struggling to survive as travel restrictions across the globe have reduced international tourist arrival to almost zero.
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In Johor Bahru’s case, the state capital is a popular destination for visitors from neighbouring Singapore to shop, dine and relax. But with border restrictions preventing Singaporeans from entering Malaysia, many businesses have slowed greatly and some were forced to call it a day to prevent further losses.
Here are some hospitality and retail businesses that have been affected:
PUTERI PACIFIC HOTEL CALLS IT A DAY
Although domestic tourism is encouraged since the interstate travel ban was lifted on Jun 10, hotels that usually cater to foreign visitors found it hard to survive.
Puteri Pacific Hotel, located about 10 minutes away from the Causeway, was popular among Singaporean visitors for its close proximity to the shopping districts and malls such as City Square and Komtar JBCC.
It was shut down as of Aug 30 after 29 years, according to media reports.
When CNA visited the hotel last Thursday (Sep 3), the building was deserted, with the lobby entrance sealed with a “No Entry” sign. The parking area was also barricaded so no car could enter the basement.
An old sign informing guests that the hotel was closed beginning Mar 20 shortly after the MCO kicked in was still displayed on the glass doors at its entrance.
SLOW BUSINESS AT CITY SQUARE MALL, KOMTAR JBCC
Shopping malls in Johor Bahru, especially Komtar JBCC and City Square Mall, were popular among tourists. They are located right across from the customs, immigration and quarantine complex and have many retail outlets.
However, the two malls are now suffering from the impact of border closure due to COVID-19, according to Mr Low Kueck Shin, president of the Johor Bahru Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Although the malls are still open for business, many outlets, ranging from well-known retailers to small businesses, were not in operation during CNA’s visit.
The entrances of fast food outlet McDonald's at City Square Mall were sealed with plywood. The deserted scene was a far cry from those days when the outlet was packed to the brim with patrons, especially on weekends.
Other restaurants in City Square were also affected. The shutter of Paik’s Pan, a Korean restaurant, was down although the chairs and tables were still in place.
A sign that said “Available Singapore Dollar” was still on display at its cashier.
Ms Tan Lin Min, the manager of the company which operates Paik’s Pan and Bornga Korean Bbq Restaurant in City Square, said the management decided to close one of them.
The management has not indicated if Paik’s Pan would reopen, she added.
An employee of a telco service centre at City Square, who wanted to be known only as Samsul, said his outlet typically served up to 10 patrons a day pre-COVID-19, but now it only has one customer a week.
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“We have reduced our working hours and have been closing earlier since there are not many customers around anymore. Our wages have been cut by 30 per cent so that no one would be laid off,” he told CNA.
Over at Komtar JBCC next door, some shops including restaurants, a jewelry store and other small skincare vendors were closed. A staff member of the mall, who declined to be named, said the number of shoppers have dropped since the pandemic happened.
B POINT REST STOP A QUIET SCENE
At B Point, a popular rest stop for Singaporeans as soon as they enter Johor Bahru via the Causeway to eat, change their cash into Malaysian ringgit and wash their vehicles, was quiet and deserted.
The area was typically crowded round the clock before COVID-19 struck.
People who work there said outlets that used to operate 24 hours are now mostly closed after sunset.
An employee of a car wash centre, who preferred not to be named, said they have to close at 8pm to reduce running costs.
“There are no more cars coming here at night for a wash ever since MCO was announced,” he said.
Mr Low, the president of the chamber of commerce, said he hopes the governments of Malaysia and Singapore can work out an arrangement for Singaporeans to visit Johor Bahru. This will help businesses to stay afloat, he said.
He added: “Maybe they can implement a gradual opening of the border, with a small number of people allowed, and with contact tracing and standard operating procedures in place in order to closely monitor the visitors.”
“We really hope both governments can work things out so that we can revive our economy.”