KOTA KINABALU, Aug 11 ― Despite the risks of catching the coronavirus with the highly transmissible Delta variant running rampant, tourism and travel operators in Sabah are hoping the government will allow them to reopen for business again as soon as possible, and not just for those who have completed the Covid-19 vaccination.
Accommodation providers, and tour and dive operators said that the last few months has been a matter of survival as they dig deep into their savings or employ cost-savings measures to stay afloat.
“We've been maintaining our place the whole time so we’re ready to open anytime. It’s just a matter of the SOPs now,” said one homestay operator who only wanted to be known as Ting.
“Of course there is some concern, but we have and will continue to do everything to minimise those risks. We cannot just wait until there are no more cases or everyone is vaccinated. That will never happen,” he told Malay Mail.
For accommodation providers, sanitising the property before and after each guest is standard practice, along with the other SOPs. But how the guests behave and distance themselves during the stay is beyond their control.
“We have couples or families come, and those shouldn’t be a problem. But there are small groups and those pose the biggest risk and worry. We have minimal or contactless hosting now ― we leave them the key, do not provide food... but groups always pose a higher risk. Our biggest worry is causing a cluster,” Ting said.
But worries aside, the sheer number of tourism industry players who are closing down, either permanently or temporarily ― is a reason to open up the industry as soon as possible.
“We need to open, just to stay alive for now. We have already done everything we can think of ― apply for grants, change our business strategy, run promotions for later, sell unnecessary assets... we are down to the bare minimum of staff for now. What else can we do?” said a travel operator who wanted to be known as Bob.
“With the vaccination programme and those vaccinated allowed to travel, I think we should open now. Yes there are risks, but people losing their jobs and livelihoods are also a big deal. It’s not just a risk but a reality now,” he said.
Bob said that his company, which previously operated nature and dive tours, had to diversify and began expanding their store to sell travel and exercise equipment.
“We have been maintaining our buses, boats and equipment... it gives our staff work, but the amount of overhead costs is too much, when we are earning just a fraction of what we used to. I think like other developed countries, you have to vaccinate as much of the population as possible and open up. They should’ve done this faster,” he said.
Another accommodation and dive operator in Semporna said that the move to open up domestic tourism was welcome, and said it could be open to interstate travel as well, as long as SOPs were stringent.
Wong said that her new chalets in the east coast town had just opened up when the pandemic and ensuing lockdown hit.
“We used up all our savings and then we couldn’t operate. We had to use the time in the last year or so to reevaluate and I had to take up another job while we wait for the pandemic to settle. It's been so stressful each month trying to figure out how to pay all our staff and keep this dream alive.
“The news that we may be able to open is very welcome. Of course there are risks. But the risk will always be there, even as people are getting vaccinated, new variants are emerging. It will be a while before it's totally safe to travel again, and we cannot wait till then. We have to start somewhere before it's too late,” she told Malay Mail.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently announced the decision to allow fully vaccinated individuals to participate in domestic tourism activities under Phase Two and Phase Three of the National Recovery Plan.
Sabah is currently under Phase Two. However, its vaccination rate is still low at about 16 per cent of the 2.9 million targeted population.