Sabah tourism players seek state govt’s help to face impending Chinese visitor slump

Tourists from China take pictures at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur January 23, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Tourists from China take pictures at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur January 23, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KOTA KINABALU, Jan 27 — Bracing for some tough times ahead with potentially zero tourists from China, the Sabah tourism industry is hoping that the state government will step in and help cushion the expected blow in the coming months.

Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Satta) president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw said that the ban on Chinese tourists from areas affected by coronavirus will see some agencies go from full chartered flights to zero passengers with total estimated losses up to RM100 million a month.

“As Sabah depends on Chinese tourists — they comprise 45 per cent of the state’s international arrivals, we expect a sharp drop in the next few months. This will lead to great losses for our inbound players, especially those whose market depends 100 per cent on Chinese arrivals.

“They might end up with zero pax for the months to come,” he said.

The Malaysian government had earlier announced a temporary ban on residents from the Hubei province and its capital city of Wuhan from entering Malaysia by suspending all available visa programmes facilitating their entry here.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the situation of the coronavirus cases in the country is not at a critical point to stop all Chinese tourists from entering the country.

Liaw urged the government to extend assistance to industry players to keep them afloat with prior commitments like repayment of buses, boats, overheads, hotels and others.

“The government can take the lead to negotiate with banks and financial institutions to defer the repayment period, or temporary suspend the repayment of loan for a few months, etc,” he said.

Liaw said that many agents have made advanced payments on hotels, and logistics in anticipation of the Chinese New Year peak period before news of the coronavirus.

“Now that the Chinese cannot come anymore, the prepaid sum might be forfeited by hotels. If the government can act as a mediators to ease the situation — for example retain the sum for future use, in this sense, it will end up with a win-win situation,” he said.

Liaw said that his agency, Airworld Travel, had a chartered flight due yesterday that was at full capacity but in the end arrived with “zero pax” — without any Chinese onboard.

He said the next two scheduled flights on January 30 and February 3 is expected to be the same.

“After the China government refrained all its nationals from leaving, we expect all flights out of China will be of zero pax of Chinese nationality,” he said,

“This also applies to all scheduled flights coming into Sabah directly from various destinations from China.”

Based on the 2019 tourist arrivals, 600,000 Chinese nationals came to Sabah and averaged about 50,000 every month.

“With an estimated RM2,000 per visit, we will lose RM100 million a month,” he added.

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