GEORGE TOWN, March 19 — The tourism industry in Penang is hoping for better business in the coming weeks after Penang welcomed the first group of passengers under the Singapore-Penang Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) by air programme on Wednesday.

Association of Tourist Attractions Penang (ATAP) chairman Ch'ng Huck Theng said some of the tourism attractions in Penang have already seen an increase in visitors in the first two days.

“Even in Ghee Hiang, we are seeing more customers from Singapore,” he said in reference to the famed bakery specialising in traditional pastries in George Town.

He said the VTL programme will benefit the state's economy and bring much needed revenue to the tourism industry that has suffered during the pandemic.

“ATAP members are now looking forward to the reopening of the international borders on April 1 so that we can get more visitors to stimulate the industry,” he said.

He said that he hopes there would not be any glitches when the visitors arrive in Malaysia, especially with the Covid-19 testing at the airport.

Ch'ng said now is the best time for VTL to be implemented and in two weeks, the reopening of the country's borders, as it is low season.

He said domestic visitors dropped after Chinese New Year so the timing of the VTL and reopening of borders was good to bring back brisk business to the industry.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chapter chairman Raj Kumar said some member hotels are already receiving calls for bookings this weekend and next weekend.

“The first VTL to Penang only has about 60 to 100 passengers so it is too early to gauge the impact of the VTL for now,” he said.

However, he said room occupancy rates are expected to pick up over the next two weeks if more visitors travel to Penang under the VTL programme.

Raj also echoed Ch'ng's statement that it is now low season with a lull in the tourism industry after the festivities of Chinese New Year.

“If we look at pre-Covid statistics, it is usually low season for domestic travellers around this time up to June, and previously, it was the foreign visitors that made up the numbers during this period,” he said.

He also agreed that the VTL is perfect timing to bring in much needed business for the hotel industry during this time.

“Now that the borders are reopening, we will be getting more people in and welcoming international visitors with higher spending power,” he said.

On Wednesday, the first VTL flight from Singapore carrying about 60 passengers touched down at the Penang International Airport (PIA) at about 6.40pm.

According to Malaysia Airports managing director Datuk Iskandar Mizal Mahmood, between 1,000 and 2,000 VTL passenger movements are expected during the first week of operations.

Both Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and PIA have private health screening service operators on-site to provide Covid-19 screening tests for VTL passengers.

There are a total of 10 screening test booths set up at PIA with a full-fledged laboratory to generate the results quickly.

Passengers can also pre-book the screening tests online here.

The 'Test and Release' arrival process was also implemented on Wednesday where passengers can immediately leave the airport after declaring their accommodation without waiting for their test results.