By Norhaslinda Jamaluddin, Lecturer, School of Hospitality, Tourism & Culinary Arts
The tourism and hospitality industry will continue to face an unparalleled level of trials during the coronavirus pandemic in 2021 and, success will depend on how its stakeholders, for instance, companies and individual properties, react and adapt to the situation. For Malaysia, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has planned and introduced various strategies to restore our tourism industry and to drive it to boost the country’s economy.
The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for Malaysia’s tourism industry through the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 campaign. At that point, the government was aiming to bring in 36 million international tourists and RM168 billion in tourist receipts. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the campaign was cancelled and it has caused an adverse impact on the tourism sector in Malaysia and the world in general. And that was the toughest hit the world’s tourism industry has ever faced.
According to Mr Vasantha Ganesan in his article in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 11, 2021, in the first nine months of the year 2020, tourist arrivals to Malaysia contracted by a whopping 78.6% to 4.29 million from 20.1 million in the previous corresponding period. It showed that 4.23 million of the tourists arrived before the borders were closed on March 18, 2020. Consequently, the tourism receipts dropped 80.9% to RM12.6 billion from RM66.1 billion in the previous corresponding period. Moreover, ever since the entry ban, many hotels are struggling to sustain their businesses. The hotel industry alone is expected to lose as much as RM6.54 billion in revenue for the year 2020. Since March 2020, 109 hotels, resorts, motels, homestays, and chalets have shut for good. And as of May, job losses were at 12,000, or 6% of the industry’s workforce. Other than that, the amusement and theme park industry also suffered. According to the Malaysian Association of Amusement Theme Parks and Family Attractions (MAATFA), the estimated losses in revenue between March and December add up to RM2.8 billion. Job losses are expected to total 2,543, with 420 workers being let go in December alone.
Despite all the losses, pressures, and difficulties, this year should be a restart for Malaysia’s tourism industry. The industry is expected to recover by the second quarter of this year, especially after the vaccines are made available to the community. The industry players should be ready to go all out and adapt to the new normal by having to change their operations differently. Apart from strict SOPs and safety and hygiene measures, it is crucial to invest in technology and integrate it into the business. It will help to rebuild travel confidence among tourists and offer a new era of safe, seamless, and touchless travel in a post-COVID-19 world.
In the meantime, international travel may take some time to recover as people need to be guaranteed from any uncertainty. There is a lot more work to be done, particularly regarding government policies, for example in terms of lifting the quarantine requirement and issuing vaccination certificates. Since travel is a big part of people’s lifestyles, domestic tourism will be the first sign. For Malaysia, domestic tourism will play an important role in the industry’s recovery. This was proven through the RM200- million allocation for the Tourism Recovery Plan under Budget 2021. As mentioned by the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, during the Budget 2021 Interview, under the Tourism Recovery Plan, the ministry will be implementing several initiatives such as discounts for tourist destinations, family holiday packages, arts and culture promotions, accommodation vouchers and the Meet in Malaysia campaign. This news was not only attractive and well received by the industry players but also among the Malaysian people.
In line with Cuti-Cuti Malaysia initiatives that have been actively promoted since last year, the Malaysian people are excited to travel again after being stuck in one place. The big question is, when can we travel again? People are more cautious now about travelling, but they also still want to travel even if it is with parameters. There are so many interesting places in our country to be explored, including trips to taste our savoury local foods, to enjoy the magnificence of nature’s attractions, to treasure our unique culture, heritage and arts, and to cherish our diversity and harmony. But it is important to always be aware of and follow all the SOPs enforced by the government and the travel sectors to ensure safe travel. Although the Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be dispensed in the first half of 2021, there is still no confirmation on how effective the vaccines are and whether the pandemic will disappear. It is our joint responsibility, therefore, to fight this disease. Whatever it is, let us be positive that this year will be better than the last. This could be a significant period for all stakeholders, a time for better reflection and renovation — towards a better and more sustainable tourism future. When the time comes, our tourism and hospitality industry will flourish again. #kitajagakita.