Hotelier: Govt needs to relook Covid-19 game plan, ineffective lockdowns killing the industry

A hotel industry player says there needs to be a change in mindset on what can and cannot be done in battling the on-going Covid-19 pandemic as hoteliers and the tourism sector continue to suffer billions in losses.

Tan Ming Luk, head of Malaysia and Singapore OYO, said that despite interstate travel being banned since Jan 13, and the total lockdown enforced nationwide since June 1, the number of Covid-19 cases remained high.

Malaysia recorded 8,868 Covid-19 cases yesterday.

“Despite the lockdowns, the Covid-19 positivity rate in the country has been erratic, with positive cases dropping to a low of 4,611 on June 21, and rising to daily cases above 6,000 for the past week. The R naught remains above 1.00, an indication of active community spread,” said Tan.

“The tell-tale signs are clear – the lockdowns and movement control orders are not succeeding in curbing the spread of the virus.”

Based on the National Recovery Plan, interstate travel, domestic tourism and social activities would only be allowed in Phase 4 – when 60 per cent of the population had been vaccinated. This would most likely take place towards the end of the year.

“The hospitality industry loses an estimated RM300 million for every two weeks of the pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions. The industry cannot wait for the whole country to get case numbers under control, looking at the difficulty in managing hotspots, or even for 60 per cent of the population to be inoculated.

“Tourism is the third biggest contributor to Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP), after manufacturing and commodities, contributing RM86.14 billion to Malaysia’s economy in 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, the overall Malaysian tourism industry has already lost RM100 billion in total.”

Tan said the government should emulate Thailand in initiatives like the Phuket Sandbox, but on a wider national level, and allow hotels to serve guests who are fully vaccinated.

“The Thai government expects about 100,000 foreign tourists to visit Phuket in the third quarter of this year and generate 8.9 billion baht (US$278 million) in revenue. We should set our own targets.

“Why should the hospitality industry in Malaysia, which has created almost zero clusters, be made to pay for the irresponsibility of others?

“Malaysia needs to re-strategise its Covid-19 containment measures by adopting a more targeted approach, instead of implementing broad, sweeping restrictions … considering that the number of daily recorded cases has not significantly dropped despite a month-long total lockdown.

“This is especially true in sectors like hospitality that are reliant on interstate travel.”

Tan said the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sectors were dependent on how fast tourism destinations and tourism source markets rebuild trust in one another.

“Robust vaccination rates can contribute to building that trust, but we must not overlook the role of the federal and state governments effectively aligning with the hospitality industry to rebuild trust in this sector.

“The recent financial aid plan announced by the prime minister, undoubtedly helps tourism and hospitality businesses through tax exemptions, electricity bill discounts and loan moratoriums, but equally crucial, is clarity on when they can restart operations,” Tan added.

He said hotels needed time to prepare, where 60 per cent of bookings were made two weeks in advance.

“One way is to link the vaccination schedule to the opening of the economy. We have control over the vaccination rate, and this will give some visibility for businesses to plan ahead.

“The government needs to give the hospitality industry the confidence and certainty it needs for reopening. If we want the reopening to be successful, we must confirm the opening date, and set clear guidelines and standard operating procedures for the sector.”

“The ball is in the government’s court. We urge the government to change its approach, to ensure that no one is left behind.

“It can start by trusting the hospitality industry to do what’s required to keep their guests safe at all times.

“After all, the industry has proven itself an able and willing partner in the fight against the pandemic. It’s now time for the government to reciprocate,” he added.

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