It is safe to assume that no other industry have suffered as badly from COVID-19 as tourism did. It has been over a year since our international borders were closed to tourists. Even domestic tourism has been badly hit due to the travel restrictions under the various forms of the movement control order (MCO).
With each passing day, my fellow players in the industry watch with horror as our usual revenue streams run dry while costs like rental, salaries and other overheads pile up. I estimate roughly 30% of travel agents have folded or barely making ends meet.
The tourism industry is not like other sectors like food and beverage, or retail, where there are options like food delivery or online shopping. Tourism is still very much an experiential industry. Our clients pay for experiences like visiting historical sites, savouring local delicacies or getting spa treatments in resorts.
There are no alternatives to such experiences unless one is physically present taking part in these activities. Unfortunately, this is not possible if foreign tourists are not even allowed into the country while domestic ones face a host of travel restrictions, not to mention the fear of COVID-19 transmission.
To be fair, the Government takes cognizance of our hardship and has thrown us several lifelines over the past 12 months to help the industry stay afloat. Prior to the pandemic, tourism is the third largest contributor to the Malaysian gross domestic product (GDP) after manufacturing and commodities.
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For example, the Pemerkasa stimulus package announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin last week has added a few more incentives to tourism players. These include a RM3,000 one-off aid to registered travel agencies, the extension on waiver for tourism and service tax and levy, and the widened scope of tax deduction to include package tours.
Prior to that, the Government had introduced a “travel bubble” between COVID-19 green zones where visitors must use the services of tour agency vehicles. My businesses have started to pick up, although it is still a far cry from the good old days prior to the pandemic.
To be honest, Pemerkasa stimulus package as well as its predecessors like Penjana and Prihatin is insufficient given how hard the pandemic has hit the industry. However, without these, many more tourism-related companies would have gone under and thousands, if not tens of thousands more would be rendered jobless.
Now that the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme has gotten underway, with talks of introducing a vaccination passport to allow a free movement of travellers, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.
For some of us in the industry, the only reason we can see the light is the various lifelines thrown to us by the Government, without which we would have been stuck in an abyss of darkness with no means of climbing out. – March 22, 2021.
JL is a contributor to FocusM.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.