In an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak across borders, Malaysia shuttered their international borders for nearly two years. The only exceptions are the Langkawi Tourism Bubble, which was only opened to foreign tourists in the second half of 2021 and the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore.
These measures were not enough for Malaysian tourism companies who rely on foreign tourists, let along tourism companies that have suffered through this two year slump. To them, the domestic tourism industry can only fully recover when the borders are reopened.
Oriental Daily interviewed several representatives of the tourism sector who are hoping that the government will create more policies that will reset and revitalise the tourism industry.
In an interview with Oriental Daily, Malindo Air CEO Mushafiz Mustafa Bakri said that the current obstacles in the way on the road to national recovery are the closure of the national borders and the different isolation, testing and vaccination requirements of various countries.
“We are calling on ASEAN countries to come to an agreement on travel documents, testing requirements, testing methods, vaccines and length of quarantine period.”
He hopes that such an agreement will expedite the reopening of borders and once again allow the aviation industry to start flying again and once again connect ASEAN nations.
“The Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore is an encouraging initiative. Hopefully we will be able to continue working with countries like Indonesia, Thailand and our other neighbours in ASEAN.”
He said that recovery must be based on distance at this point of time and more emphasis needs to be placed on discussions with ASEAN nations.
He believes that countries should accept tourists who wish to enter and have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. It is only when people can once again move around without restriction can the tourism industry regain its momentum on the road to recovery.
Full recovery needs a strong leadership from MOTAC
Mint Leong, acting chairperson of the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association pointed out that the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC) must take the lead in the recovery of the tourism industry since a lot of communication and policymaking across departments and agencies have to be involved.
She emphasised that the full recovery of the tourism industry requires MOTAC to take a strong leadership role, to be responsible for communication and connection between various departments after taking into consideration the suggestions and concerns from industry leaders.
“The policy has to start with the government. If the government does not allow Malaysians to travel abroad and foreign tourists to enter, it will be a complete failure as a ministry.”
She is hoping that the government can negotiate with ASEAN countries to open up more tourist bubbles and flights and to make plans in advance to select suitable locations for tourist bubbles and target traveller groups.
The policy has to start with the government. If the government does not allow Malaysians to travel abroad and foreign tourists to enter, it will be a complete failure”Mint Leong, acting chairperson of the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association
“We hope that the travel bubble in Langkawi can be extended to other places, quarantine should be reduced from 7 to 5 days. This safer environment will be able to help inbound tourism operators bring more customers in.”
She suggested that Malaysia should refer to the tourism policies of some other countries in this pandemic such as those of more liberal countries like those in Europe and America to then craft a suitable model for Malaysia’s tourism industry.
An ASEAN travel visa has been proposed to allow for travel between 10 countries
On the other hand, Malaysian Association of Hotels CEO Yap Lip Seng said that the association has repeatedly suggested that the ASEAN Tourism Association introduce a single visa for ASEAN countries in order to attract more foreign tourists.
He explained that tourists holding this visa should be allowed unimpeded travel to the 10 ASEAN countries without having to apply for separate visas, thus allowing more tourists to visit more ASEAN countries and spend more time here.
He said that this strategy is similar to the one adopted in European countries and can be an excellent strategy for the Malaysian tourism industry which has been highly dependent on foreign tourists and their high spending power.
He pointed out that ASEAN can take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to conduct a major reset of the tourism industry and to restart talks of collaborations between ASEAN nations to present itself as a destination as a whole.
He also said that ASEAN as a whole is a very competitive tourist destination because of the wide variety of attractions, cultures and natural heritage that are competitive with other travel destinations.
He pointed out that ASEAN member nations can work together to promote tourism in ASEAN through a clever marketing slogan being “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” when promoting and encouraging tourism in their respective countries.
He believes that as long as the 10 ASEAN countries can commit to this it will bring an influx of a large number of tourists and eventually benefit all ASEAN member nations.
In addition, Yap also said that Malaysia is very dependent on tourists from within ASEAN itself, especially from Singapore.
“70% of our tourists are from ASEAN and almost half of them are from Singapore.”
He said that tourists from Singapore are not particularly helpful to the Malaysian hotel industry as they prefer to stay with their relative and friends in their homes instead.
He believes that Malaysia needs to revamp its strategy in order to reduce its reliance on Singaporean tourists and instead, look towards expanding to attract tourists from other key markets such as China, India, Japan and South Korea.
This article was originally published in Oriental Daily and is produced as part of the Seafore Masterclass project, with support from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting