Forget inbound tourism, even domestic tourism may be in peril

By YS Chan

 

THE first case of COVID-19 in Malaysia was detected on Jan 25 last year and the number rose to 22,036 on Oct 20, about nine months later. This works out to an average of 2,448 people tested positive per month.

But this figure had been exceeded twice in just one day on Dec 31 with 2,525 cases and again yesterday setting a new record of 2,593.

So far, there were 10 days where cases exceeded 2,000 and their combined total is 22,345 – more than the total recorded in the first nine months!

At this rate, it would be no surprise that the ban on interstate or even inter-district travel be reimposed to curb the spread of infections.

That would mean no ‘balik kampung’ or domestic trips for millions of Malaysians planning to travel during the Chinese New Year holidays.

Recently, the Malaysia Association of Tour Agency (Mata) president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said the country is more prepared now to accept inbound tourists and conditions are ripe for controls on entry into the country to be lifted to give the tourism industry a much-needed kick-start.

He was reported to have said “The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry should launch promotional efforts to inform potential tourists that Malaysia is now a safe place where they can enjoy their holidays, that we have sufficient facilities to cope with the pandemic which, by the way, is already under control.”

“I think we are ready to welcome tourists from green zone countries. All we need is for the authorities and the hospitality industry to be well prepared to take up the challenge.”

However, his proposals ran contrary to the travel alert issued by the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur urging Americans to consider returning to their country of residence immediately using whatever commercial means available, and suggested they develop a travel plan that does not rely on the US government for assistance.

The notice advised travellers to avoid all travel to Malaysia which might increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. This came just over a month after the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “Level 4 – Avoid All Travel” health notice for Malaysia.

The Malaysia Travel Advisory was issued by the US Department of State and is meant for American citizens but is also used as a reference by many other nations and nationals regarding travel to Malaysia.

It will be pointless to call on the Government to open borders when few foreigners are planning to visit Malaysia when the rate of infections remain high.

In fact, it could even backfire when we are seen as irresponsible for inviting them in and exposing them to COVID-19 infection.

Earlier, the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) had projected that Malaysia will be recording over 5,000 COVID-19 infections daily from Feb 25 and forecasted to rise until March 21 with 5,379 infections before declining on April 1.

Let us pray it will not reach such alarming figures. But one thing is certain: The record will not remain at 2,593 as many Malaysians and foreign workers still do not wear their masks properly or practise physical distancing and like to engage in idle chatter through force of habit.

Until we can bring down the rate of infections to less than a thousand cases per day over a two-week period or more, it would be overly hasty for tour operators to prepare for inbound tourists.

Six months ago, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin stated that tourism would take four years to recover, as predicted by the Economic Action Council.

When visitors from traditional markets are allowed to travel freely out of their countries again, the first beneficiaries would be the airlines followed by local public transport providers, accommodation suppliers, food, beverage and shopping outlets, theme parks and entertainment centres, and lastly tour operators, as much fewer tourists will be travelling in tour groups. – Jan 7, 2021

 

YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer for travel agencies, master trainer for Travel & Tours Enhancement Course and Mesra Malaysia (both programmes under Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture). He is also a tourism and transport industry consultant and writer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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