KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 — Despite the reopening of Malaysia’s international borders on April 1, the tourism sector here is still struggling to get back on its feet as foreign tourist arrivals remain low.
The tourism stakeholders interviewed by Malay Mail recently said that the industry is currently relying on domestic visitors.
They said it would take at least a year for the industry to bounce back, as recovery also depends on other countries reopening their international borders to what they were in pre-Covid-19 times.
Normalcy in 2023
Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said that the recovery journey is only starting now, after the government eased Covid-19 testing requirements on May 1.
“The tourism industry is highly dependent on international arrivals due to a low domestic consumer base, unlike countries such as China, India, Indonesia or the Philippines that have a large population.
“The growth for international arrivals is not significant due to the uncertainty of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the rising cost of travel and key source markets such as China remaining closed,” he told Malay Mail.
Tan said that up to the end of the second quarter of this year, the tourism industry is still predominantly a domestic market as Malaysians find it easier at this time to travel within the country.
“The travel segment ‘visit friends and relatives’ and business travel are picking up, but the leisure segment appears slow.
“Hopefully, it will pick up during the third and fourth quarter of the year,” he said.
Tan also pointed out that the leisure travel market usually has a longer planning time coupled with post-Covid travel conditions as travellers need time to adjust to the transition.
“Normalcy will return hopefully by 2023,” he said.
However, Tan noted that enquiries and bookings for international travel have been picking up.
“This is based on the recently concluded Matta fair April 2022. To meet pent-up demand for international travel, several state Matta fairs will be held in June, July and August,” he added.
On the outlook for the rest of 2022, Tan said the tourism industry will likely host 10 million international tourists from the traditional source markets of Asean countries, India, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and Europe.
“Intra-Asean travel is our best bet, but Asean governments need to encourage travel by providing the same standard of travel health protocols throughout the region for a seamless travel experience,” he said.
Hotel bookings picking up
Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners (Maho) executive director Shaharuddin M. Saaid said that some 500,000 foreign tourists have arrived since borders reopened.
"Tourism receipts are picking up, but still much, much lower than pre-pandemic levels. Hotels are experiencing an increase in occupancy.
“At some high-demand destinations, hotel occupancy registered 70 per cent to 80 per cent, especially during peak periods such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri and long holiday weekends. However, occupancy only ranged from 30 per cent to 40 per cent before this,” he said.
Shaharuddin also said some countries’ restrictions on outbound travel were among the contributing factors to fewer foreign tourist arrivals.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the lack of accessibility or unavailability of flights from those countries to Malaysia was also a contributing factor.
Malaysian Association of Hotels president N. Subramaniam also said that it would take at least a year for the hotel industry to recover or to register bookings similar to pre-pandemic days. "It may take about a year to recover and we will have to wait, if we want to see the occupancy rates go up to 60 per cent to 80 per cent,” he said.
Subramaniam also said hotels were almost fully booked recently due to the Aidilfitri festive season and also the government’s decision to ease standard operating procedures (SOP).
“We cannot predict what the increase in occupancy will be in the coming months as we will only know after the Hari Raya period.
“During the recent festive season, most of the hotels in the east coast, Melaka, Penang and other states were nearly full.
“However, in the Klang Valley, the hotels were not as full as most people ‘balik kampung’,” he added.
Subramaniam also stressed that the hotel industry in Malaysia relies on foreign tourists and they have yet to arrive in droves.
"Mostly, we can see some tourists coming in from Singapore, Thailand and a small number of tourists from other countries.
“The SOPs from the government should be made simpler for international tourists to understand and adhere to.
“With clear SOPs and instructions, the authorities concerned, when carrying out their duties, will deliver a smooth and efficient service to all concerned,” he said.
Separately, Subramaniam also said the service industry was suffering from a shortage of workers.
“Many have moved to other industries in the last two years. Moreover, the increase in minimum wage to RM1,500 has also aggravated the situation.
“We understand many hotels have applied for foreign workers, but they are yet to receive approval from the authorities."
He said that MAH is also planning to send another memorandum to the government to consider extending the wage subsidy scheme for another six months as the hotel industry has been most affected since the onset of the pandemic.
"The government can also support the hotel industry by holding their functions and seminars at hotels,” he said.
Subramaniam added that MAH has about 1,000 members while 150 hotels were forced to close due to the pandemic.