PETALING JAYA: Players in the tour and travel business are keen to welcome visitors to Malaysia again and want the government to reopen borders.

The Malaysia Association Tour Agency (Mata) believes that conditions are ripe for controls on entry into the country to be lifted to give the tourism industry a much-needed kick-start.

On the other hand, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) is a little more cautious.

While it supports easing of travel controls, it stressed that a safer option is to wait until after March when the country is expected to get its first doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

Mata president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said the country is more prepared now to accept inbound tourists.

“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,” he told theSun.

“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,” he added.

Mohd Khalid was responding to a statement by Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri last week that the government is considering the possibility of reopening its borders to boost the tourism sector.

She said her ministry is already in discussions with several countries, including Singapore, Brunei, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand, which have been categorised as green countries.

Mohd Khalid noted that allowing Singaporeans to visit Malaysia would help to boost the tourism industry significantly, given that many Singaporeans also treat Malaysia like home.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the tourism sector, one of the country’s major foreign exchange earner.

Data from Tourism Malaysia shows that 26.1 million visitors arrived in Malaysia in 2019, and spent a total of RM86.1 billion that year.

However, tourist arrivals plunged 68.2% in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period the year before. Earnings dropped 69.8% to only RM12.5 billion in the same period.

Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang proposed that before the country eases its border controls, it should look into establishing standard operating procedures that are consistent with targeted countries.

Tan said the government should also ensure uniformity in directives that both the Health Ministry and the National Security Council are authorised to issue.

“We expect the momentum of tourist arrivals to pick up only in the third quarter of the year if the Covid-19 vaccine becomes available soon, as promised,” he said.

Even if the controls as eased as hoped, Tan expects the tourism business to pick up by only about 20% early in the year as schools will reopen and more people will return to work.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) expects the occupancy rate to peak during festive periods such as the Chinese New Year holidays.

It also expects a slight increase in business travel.

However, it said the occupancy rate is likely to remain at 20% to 30% for the first quarter of the year.

“It will be higher at tourism destinations such as island and beach resorts but still low in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Johor Baru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, which are highly dependent on international arrivals,” MAH added.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the tourism sector, one of the country’s major foreign exchange earner.

Data from Tourism Malaysia shows that 26.1 million visitors arrived in Malaysia in 2019, and spent a total of RM86.1 billion that year.

However, tourist arrivals plunged 68.2% in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period the year before. Earnings dropped 69.8% to only RM12.5 billion in the same period.

Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang proposed that before the country eases its border controls, it should look into establishing standard operating procedures that are consistent with targeted countries.

Tan said the government should also ensure uniformity in directives that both the Health Ministry and the National Security Council are authorised to issue.

“We expect the momentum of tourist arrivals to pick up only in the third quarter of the year if the Covid-19 vaccine becomes available soon, as promised,” he said.

Even if the controls as eased as hoped, Tan expects the tourism business to pick up by only about 20% early in the year as schools will reopen and more people will return to work.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) expects the occupancy rate to peak during festive periods such as the Chinese New Year holidays.

It also expects a slight increase in business travel.

However, it said the occupancy rate is likely to remain at 20% to 30% for the first quarter of the year.

“It will be higher at tourism destinations such as island and beach resorts but still low in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Johor Baru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, which are highly dependent on international arrivals,” MAH added.