Since the government has agreed to allow interstate travel in all states except for several areas in the enhanced movement control order (EMCO), this is the best moment for the tourism industry to recover, though not entirely, from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through the latest announcement by the National Security Council (NSC), it is undoubtedly a piece of good news for tourism industry players as they can breathe a sigh of relief and be back in action through domestic tourism while waiting for the right time for the international travel bubble to materialise — a mutual agreement among green countries to open up their border for tourism travel.
The tourism industry, which is the third-largest contributor to Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product after manufacturing and commodities, is seen slowing down throughout the year due to Covid-19.
According to the latest statistics on tourism performance from January 2020 to September 2020, Malaysia reported a 78.6 per cent decline in tourist arrivals, followed by an 80.9 per cent decline in revenue over the previous year, showing the global pandemic is a major cause.
This may also clarify the severe impact of the movement control order (MCO) implemented in several phases. Although the tourism industry has recovered slightly during the recovery MCO, the pressure is again felt by the tourism industry due to the reintroduction of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) and EMCO in some states to curb the Covid-19 spread.
Referring to the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, the government’s decision to allow interstate travel will indirectly revive domestic tourism as the Domestic Travel Bubble initiative has enabled movements covering all zones without the Royal Malaysia Police’s permission.
This will need our country’s entire focus on domestic tourism to help the tourism industry recover and further strengthen our economy because we cannot rely on the international travel bubble for now.
President of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents, Datuk Tan Kok Liang, also added that the association welcomes the move as it coincides with the year-end season, which is generally a boon for tourism players.
Most people are also expected to utilise the interstate travel permits in seizing the opportunity to return to their hometown and likely arrange trips to celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Year.
It is indeed a bold move by the government to make space for the tourism industry and restore its success for December 2020 and beyond, along with the RM 200 million government assistance specified in the Budget 2021.
Plus, the tourism industry needs to develop some effective plans and promotions for the upcoming festive seasons, especially Christmas and New Year celebrations to increase public confidence since some are still afraid and less optimistic of going on holidays due to the third wave of Covid-19 infection.
For instance, although Sabah recorded high Covid-19 cases, tourism players and hoteliers actively plan to leverage the festive and year-end holiday season when the country announces the reopening of inter-district and inter-state travel.
Thus, other tourism industry players should follow in their footsteps to recover immediately after experiencing the adverse effects of the CMCO and EMCO by offering the enticing campaigns for the public.
However, the NSC reminded the rakyat to adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs) while conducting interstate travel, which is the essential requirement to continuously secure the win against Covid-19 while allowing the tourism industry to breathe during the ongoing crisis.
Most tourist spots will also be crowded, where this involves industry players to ensure visitors will fully comply with the SOP so that our primary focus to flatten the Covid-19 curve is not interrupted and on the right track.
Not just that, we must bear in mind the government’s decision still depends heavily on the public to continually play a significant role in compliance with the SOP to prevent widespread Covid-19 infection while travelling somewhere.
This implies that people should not take the SOP compliance lightly as it is likely to exacerbate the third wave of infection we are currently facing and then interfere with the nation’s goal to be free immediately from Covid-19.
However, Covid-19 is the real challenge for the tourism industry to regain its best performance during the crisis and they would undoubtedly worry about their next fate to survive in the future while placing high hopes on further relaxation measures the government may implement.
Thus, it is hoped they will wait patiently for further decisions and give the government time to review the current situation before deciding on additional relaxation measures to boost the tourism industry.
Currently, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture is also discussing the possibility of making travel bubble arrangements with green zone countries to revive the tourism industry.
While waiting for the result, the tourism industry players should prioritise domestic tourism by turning the interstate travel allowed into an advantage and implementing the best possible ways to attract people to do domestic tourism, even in this challenging time.
After all, apart from the permission for interstate travel, the government must continue to provide the tourism industry with strong assurances so that they can successfully escape the shackles of this crisis.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.