By Lee San
At a time when the planet is struggling to pull through from the Catastrophe of the Century, it is reported that our government is prepared to fork out hundreds of millions ringgit to distribute "green packets" to civil servants.
This really makes me green with envy, but a Malay friend of mine told me, "To be honest, I feel I'm undeserving for the generosity!"
True, when all segments of the society are suffering and anxiously awaiting government assistance, our government leaders unfortunately are more inclined to hand out the goodies to a privileged group of people. I honestly pity the majority who are struggling to make ends meet during this trying time.
I doubt the government has developed a keen distaste for capitalist economics. Look at the government's attitude towards the tourist industry, which for the past 33 years has made remarkable contributions towards the country's development.
Having said that, the fate of more than 100,000 individuals employed in this industry is not any better than that of a modest nasi lemak seller.
I guess Nancy Shukri is unlucky enough to be appointed minister for this wilfully overlooked portfolio. At a time the coronavirus pandemic is rife, I'm pretty sure the report in your hand has been glossed over to look less dispiriting, right?
Allow me to share with you some of the disheartening facts pertaining to this industry at this very moment.
1. The coronavirus has come all too soon, too rapidly, too extensively and too callously, and has completely crushed all the upstream and downstream tourism-related sectors.
2. The travel industry itself is not a very lucrative one to begin with. Companies' cash flow thrives on customers' deposits in general, many hardly having any reserves to see them through the bad times.
3. While most of us are having zero revenue right now, some of the fixed expenses are squarely unavoidable. The banks have said they will not extend loans to travel agencies.
4. Many travel agencies, souvenir shops, hotels, airline companies, etc. have to resort to pay cuts from March through May in order to stay afloat, with mass layoffs, liquidations and bankruptcies expected to follow.
Don't you feel worried, YB? Over 100,000 in tourism payroll are about to lose their jobs and go without cash to buy food or visit a doctor, and the government doesn't have any long-term unemployment relief plans in place!
5. Many travel agencies handling inbound tours have wound up as early as February and are now panting under the immense pressure from outstanding debts, owed salaries, tour guide fees, commissions, credit card arrears, tour bus loans, hotels and restaurants... And all this has been a consequence of gross incompetency on the part of our tourism ministry.
6. As for outbound travel agencies, by right the first half of the year should be peak travel season for Malaysians with overwhelming paid bookings. But the thing is, a big chunk of the receipts have been almost instantaneously transferred to airline companies and ground arrangement operators abroad, with not much left at the disposal of local travel agencies. All paid tour fees and refunds have to go as per the provisions of Tourism Industry Act.
7. Out of the blue the government pulled the plug on outbound travels, making it extremely difficult for us to make refunds to customers. Unwilling to find out what's actually going on, the government spokesman just told the industry to coordinate the refunds, and this made the situation even more confusing. It appears to me that the tourism ministry, travel associations and airline companies are trying to dodge their responsibilities. At least you should take the lead in coordinating!
8. To be honest, the Tourism Industry Act 1992 is outdated now. Perhaps the government should take cue from the insurance mechanisms of Taiwan and Hong Kong to safeguard the interests of consumers. In the event of a disaster, both sides will be subjected to the legal liabilities and their losses will be adequately covered. So, YB, please do something right away!
9. Today, people involved in the travel business, along with their families and children, are looking to the RM600-1,200 government assistance, but again they have to apply month to month. Why can't they get the assistance for six months in one go? I can't help but ask in caution whether our national coffers are drying up soon?
10. I would suggest that the minister bring up this matter to the PM and make sure everyone in the industry gets to keep his or her job. I would propose to the government to seriously look into subsidizing 60% of salaries for people employed in the travel business up to RM3,000 a month through September. What do you think, YB?
11. Although it is utterly important to restart the tourist industry, will the government prioritize domestic tourism after ban on interstate travels is lifted? This could be a fantastic idea, but do you have any follow-up plans? Why don't you issue RM300 of "domestic travel vouchers" to senior citizens, orphans, frontline healthcare personnel and civil servants? With these vouchers in hand, I'm sure Malaysians are more motivated to spend. This is what we call tourism economics.
12. It is hoped that bidirectional intraregional tourist traffic could be reinstated within Asean beginning August this year.
13. And from October onward, new normal international travels should be up and running, beginning with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and China. What do you think, YB?
14. Of course, this is provided that governments first agree to exempt each other's visitors from the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
15. I believe some kind of COVID-19 test certificate not unlike the yellow fever vaccination certificate, is a nice idea for additional peace of mind.
16. As a matter of fact, the coronavirus has highlighted the man-induced vulnerability and unscientific weaknesses of the tourist industry.
17. In addition, our tourism ministry is festered with non-versatility, excessive bureaucratization and sheer incompetency. It's high time to overhaul the ministry, YB, and inject into the antiquated institution new scientific and technological elements as well as systematic data management to keep up with the times in analyzing industrial risks, training and upgrading of tourism-related sectors.
End of my report.
While many agree that Donald Trump is downright rotten and insane, at least his administration puts revitalizing the US economy in priority!
Now look back at our own unduly bloated new cabinet of over 70 members! They all look ambitious trying to do something "big" for the nation, but none would stand up for the rakyat and tell us how we should move from here.
Why don't you take the lead, YB Nancy, to usher in the new normal of a reformed tourism ministry? You'll have our full backing!
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.)