By Lee San
George, the Kenyan animal migration driver-guide, texted me, lamenting the complete absence of tourists despite the super peak holiday season. It looks like we're going to lose our jobs anytime! But the boss is suffering much more in this disastrous pandemic. All the jeeps will be taken back by the bank. Those lions, leopards, vultures and alligators are nonetheless the happiest, as they can go out hunting for food without any interruption from human intruders.
Is this what they called World War III? Looks like the environment has won at this point of time while humans are brutally slain. And the havoc wreaked is far more than this, crippling the tourist industry and triggering tsunami-like business closures and joblessness.
It's been six months since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. The tourism minister recently revealed that the industry suffered as much as RM45 billion during the past half a year (The Star Online, June 27).
As a matter of fact, over a billion people employed in this industry worldwide have been asking restlessly: When will we ever get back to work? What about the tourists? Under the new normal way of doing things, tourism operators are forced to change to other trades, but what can they do? Manufacturing, farming, entertainment and other businesses are equally bruised. It appears that this virus is putting the friendship and versatility between employers and their staff to stringent test.
I have heard of people saying of late: "Life's been hard for you, boss. We'll go through the thick and thin with you!" Such tearful words have touched the heart of many a boss. Indeed, during such a trying moment, we have seen true friendship. To be honest, many in this industry have been struggling to stay alive. We will never let brand loyalty, trust and support we have earned through years of hard work to fall easily, and will hold on to it for as long as we can.
But the reality is, we have to come to terms with zero income for an infinite period of time. Thank God the staff are willing to go through all this with us at half pay. Even then we still have debts to settle and basic operating expenses to worry about.
How can we just sit back and do nothing? We've got to find some way to survive!
So, some have started selling durians, home-made cakes, dumplings, fish balls, bento boxes, nasi lemak, roti canai, soya milk, handcrafted soap — anything that can sell — for probably very tiny profits.
I have seen bosses and employees in our line, even tour guides, tour leaders and drivers, going around door-to-door selling things that are not of their professionalism. Cruel as the reality is, they have to fight things out for their own, as well as their families' survival. We've got to face the reality fearlessly.
As a matter of fact, in every industry we have seen people working very hard to make a meager living. They truly deserve our utmost respect. Chua Lam has offered the following advice to his media friends: We should rediscover our earliest enthusiasm and devotion and start everything afresh. There'll be light at the end of the tunnel!
Indeed, the most prohibitive movement restrictions are now behind us. Most of the bans have been lifted since June 10, and we can move around the country freely now.
Although domestic tours are hardly profitable, so long as people are willing to travel, there are chances retail consumerism will be boosted, and in turn the entire tourist economy will receive a major lift, creating new job opportunities for the people. Isn't that wonderful?
While waiting for the tourism ministry to come up with solid solutions to revive the industry, operators should perhaps stand united and fight the war together in solidarity. I'm quite sure our loyal customers will join our tour groups, starting with Cuti Cuti Malaysia before Jalan Jalan the world.
Meanwhile, we are really thankful to have you all who have supported us throughout the years to continue supporting us.
In view of this, hotels, tour leaders, tour guides, ground arrangement agencies, and even airline companies nationwide have been willing to echo my call to bring back travel services to the public. They are willing to sacrifice their profits so that we can bring the industry back on its feet again.
I first came up with a 3D2N fly-and-stay package that saw all 40 seats fully booked within 48 hours. Of course, we still have more uniquely themed domestic tours on offer soon, including Mulu caves in Sarawak and the orangutan tour in Sandakan, Sabah. Hope our tourism minister Nancy Shukri will join us!
Thank you minister for avidly promoting domestic travel among Malaysians, but you have only done half right. We know that you said on June 27 that the government will provide further financial assistance to local tour operators offering certain domestic tour packages, while extending micro loans to eligible travel agencies. These are excellent moves, but we hope the assistance solutions are fair, hassle-free and efficient, and will effectively solve our problems.
For your information, YB, while hotels, resorts, homestays and travel agencies nationwide have learned about the good news from you, over 35% of them have been sadly left out. They have shuttered their businesses! Don't you feel worried, YB?
Honestly, I feel it absolutely necessary for the government to emulate Singapore or Taiwan to introduce specific "projects" to help the tourist industry, or at least help those in the industry keep their jobs. Are you really not going to implement the "domestic travel vouchers" which I have repeatedly proposed, YB? Actually the travel vouchers will directly encourage Malaysians to travel and spend, and will resuscitate the dying travel industry and prevent an imminent unemployment tide.
We have all had a very tough time during the recent virus lockdown, whether we are selling durians or eggs. We should help one another to weather this crisis, and hopefully we'll be able to travel wherever we want very soon. Jom!
(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.)