2020-07-15 13:19:00  2307803
Lifting the local tourist industry
Opinion

Sin Chew Daily

Tourism and the related industries are among the most severely hit in the current coronavirus pandemic. To make things worse, the tourist industry will be the last to recover from the pandemic compared to other economic sectors.

The national economic action council has predicted that the industry will take four whole years to fully recover.

This year happens to be Visit Malaysia Year. Many in the tourist, hotel, transportation and other related industries have earlier banked on this unique opportunity to rake in handsome profits. Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has messed up all their plans and strategies.

Since the MCO was first introduced in March, those in the industry have suffered near zero income for months. According to the tourism ministry, the tourism and cultural sector is suffering up to RM45 billion in revenue losses, and about one million people employed in this sector are expected to lose their jobs this year.

The country is currently in the RMCO phase through August 31. While hotels and tourist businesses are now allowed to resume their operations, the overall prospect does not allow us to be optimistic at all, even though popular tourist destinations in the country have seen a strong rebound in the number of visitors. Many businesses have been unable to enjoy pre-lockdown sale levels.

Much of the tourism revenue has come from foreign visitors, but with most countries around the world still under lockdown, we have no idea when the sector will be completely opened up. Businesses that have thrived from high foreign tourist flow will have to wait much longer before they can really restart their operations.

Given the fact many other economic sectors are also suffering heavily from this pandemic, resulting in a drastic surge in unemployment, consumer sentiment remains cautiously low among Malaysians. Tourist business operators cannot solely rely on receipts from domestic travelers to sustain their operations.

As part of the government's economic stimulus package designed to help Malaysians affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, local banks have since April 1 extended a 6-month moratorium for their clients, offering a momentary respite for many.

The tourism ministry has also discussed with relevant operators to draw up plans to boost the tourist market post-lockdown while providing timely assistance to help them through this trying time.

The thing is, there is an end to the moratorium while there are also limitations to the government's assistance. Since the tourist industry is an important locomotive for the country's economic development, it is absolutely necessary for the government to keep liaising with industry operators in order to identify their problems. Perhaps they should consider extending their debt moratorium by another three to six months.

There are actually many other things the government can do besides boosting the tourism industry, offering assistance and debt mitigation programs to help industry operators.

After the RMCO ends, September will be a critical period for the recovery of the tourist industry. If more operators are unable to last until then, the whole industry will be in for truly challenging time. While looking to government assistance, many industry operators have already searched for new solutions, including developing new products for the domestic tourist market.

On top of existing popular sightseeing destinations, there are actually a whole lot more tourism resources yet to be discovered and exploited. In the past we have overlooked many of our natural and cultural assets, and their potential must be harnessed to lift the domestic tourist industry.

Business operators have made the first move, and it is now up to the government to offer the necessary assistance to give the country's post-pandemic tourist industry a powerful jab.



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