PETALING JAYA: The government will have to set a firm date on reopening Malaysia’s borders to foreign visitors or risk being left behind in the tourism business.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said most countries are already welcoming foreign visitors and tourists.

For instance, he said, visitors to Australia and some countries in Europe no longer have to undergo quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated.

Tan said the longer Malaysia waits, the harder it will be for the country to attract tourists as neighbouring countries would already have a head start.

“Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the economy and why Malaysia is taking its own sweet time has left the industry baffled,” he told theSun.

“We in the tourism industry need a firm date and not just a suggested period because we need to prepare ourselves for the arrival of tourists,” he added.

Tan said the failure to set a firm date will have an adverse impact on the industry. “We seem to be getting all kinds of information but nothing on the dates,” he pointed out.

“We have been closed for two years plus and it has had a major impact; we need to open up fast to help the industry recover.”

Tan described as puzzling the government’s failure to show any urgency in reopening the country to tourism given its huge contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP).

“For example, in 2019 foreign tourists contributed RM86 billion to the economy and in 2020 it was targeted to be RM100 billion before Covid-19 hit us,” he added.

The Matta president said currently, the number of tourists landing in Malaysia is only 10% to 20% of the 2019 figure.

“We need to protect the industry by reopening our borders as quickly as possible, and this is by setting a firm date. There must be no U-turn after the date is set,” he said.

Tan pointed out that Malaysians are already travelling abroad for holidays and they don’t mind being quarantined when they return home. “Why then can’t we open up?” he asked.

The only way for foreigners to enter Malaysia now is through the Langkawi travel bubble, but they will have to spend at least five days on the resort island before being allowed to visit the rest of the country.

“The travel restrictions are not doing anyone any good, it is only hurting the industry,” Tan said.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had recently said a more realistic time to reopen the borders would be the second quarter of the year.

Malaysia Budget Hotel Association deputy president Dr Sri Ganesh Michiel said travel restrictions had wreaked havoc for budget hotels in big cities.

He said most of these hotels rely on foreign tourists to survive.

“On a visit to Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur recently, I found that a majority of the budget hotels hardly had any guests. How long can this go on?” he asked.

“We need a firm date for the border reopening as we need time to prepare our rooms, recruit staff and carry out maintenance activities,” Sri Ganesh told theSun.

“On top of that, we will not see tourists coming in overnight. It will take time to attract them.”

Sri Ganesh said Malaysia would need to make tourists believe that it is still an attractive place to visit.

“If the government is so worried about the spread of Covid-19, it can set up strict standard operating procedures for foreign visitors and tourists to follow,” he added.