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Tourism sector divided on easing of restrictions

Domestic tour players want travel curbs lifted but their inbound tour peers disagree

02 Mar 2021 / 10:15 H.

PETALING JAYA: With the Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out across the country, players in the domestic tourism sector believe that the time has come to not only lift travel restrictions but also reopen entertainment outlets.

On the other hand, their colleagues who manage inbound tourists are taking a more cautious stand, for fear that a rapid surge in travel could lead to a third round of movement control order (MCO 3.0) that, they fear, would be devastating.

The Association of Malaysian Travel Agencies (Mata), which represents about 4,000 tour agencies, said restrictions on interstate travel should be lifted now, and theme parks and even cinemas should also be allowed to welcome patrons again.

Mata president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun told theSun that in line with the government effort to promote domestic tourism, these steps would be timely. “Such a move would stimulate domestic tourism,” he said.

“I believe theme park operators, such as Sunway Lagoon, are ready to welcome visitors again, and this can be done by strictly enforcing the standard operating procedures (SOP). As more people get vaccinated, it should be alright to allow entertainment outlets to operate again,” he said.

“All the stakeholders are prepared to adapt to the changes and ensure the SOPs are strictly observed. Gradual easing of the restrictions will encourage locals to travel to various tourist spots again,” he added.

Mohd Khalid said most players in the travel industry have been badly hit. Citing his own business as an example, he said he has had to close two of his offices in Kuala Lumpur because he could no longer pay the rent.

He said many other companies could suffer the same fate or even close down if the restrictions remain in place for too long, and the travel industry would shut down for good.

For instance, Sunway Theme Parks executive director Calvin Ho recently told the media the company’s theme park in Bandar Sunway and the Lost World of Tambun in Perak nearly had to fold up because of the pandemic.

Mohd Khalid said many Mata members had already moved on to other professions to make ends meet as the tourism industry in the country “is going nowhere”. “Many have entered the food business, selling items such as cakes online to sustain themselves,” he added.

The Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) said it would take some time for Malaysia to reopen some sectors, such as entertainment.

Mita president Uzaidi Udanis is also cognizant of the fact that more virulent strains of the Covid-19 virus have surfaced.

“The virus is getting ‘smarter’ so we have to ‘outsmart’ it. On the other hand, we are still learning how to beat it, so reopening entertainment outlets, particularly those that operate indoors, such as cinemas, may not be appropriate yet,” he told theSun.

Uzaidi said it would be wise to take into account safety before restoring freedom to travel. While loosening travel restrictions will motivate people to travel, there is also the risk of infection.

“I would rather face an extension of MCO 2.0 than deal with an MCO 3.0. That will spell doom for the industry,” he added.

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