Malaysian inbound tourism players who have been dealt a devastating blow from the wave of cancellations from Chinese groups due to the coronavirus outbreak are calling on the authorities for assistance to tide over the crisis.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) president, Uzaidi Udanis, shared that its 60 members who are active in the Chinese inbound business have reported 80 per cent in cancellations.
He said that MITA had expected around 300,000 mainland Chinese tourists to enter Malaysia via the Second Link checkpoint over this Chinese New Year period.
Udanis added: “Our members who own buses and have to service their loans are in trouble. Some members have 100 registered coaches. The monthly repayment for each coach can be as much as RM10,000 (US$2,400). Without any income as there are no Chinese groups coming in from Singapore, it will be almost impossible for them to service their loans.
We have informed the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) which in turn, has asked the Ministry of Finance to assist. We hope Bank Negara Malaysia will issue a circular to the banks to be more flexible on the repayment of loans for the tour coaches.”
Udanis also said that MITA has approached hotel associations to assist its members with refunds for cancelled groups.
“Some hotels are keeping the cancellation fee as a floating deposit for future groups. This is not a wise move as it involves a big amount and the money is needed by our members to cover their operational costs during these trying times,” he said, adding that the association is compiling a list of those hotels to send to the MOTAC to seek assistance.
At the same time, MITA has requested for incentives, such as special tax breaks and soft loans, to help its members – comprising tour operators, restaurants, retail outlets and hotels – tide over this difficult period.
On their part, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), alongside key industry partner Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), has proposed to the government for a monetary and financial stimuli, including a temporary deferment of loan repayments, permits and licensing fee waivers, and a temporary lifting of the tourism tax.
MATTA president, Tan Kok Liang, said in a statement: “The various ministries could reduce or waive contributions and taxes such as those mandatory for the Employees Provident Fund, Human Resources Development Fund, tourism tax, road tax, and fees for various company licenses and vehicle permits. Financial institutions could give out special loans, reduce interest rates or allow deferment in loan repayment as tour buses are idle more often than running.”
Furthermore, MATTA has also proposed to MOTAC and Tourism Malaysia a series of recovery measures to tackle falling tourist arrivals to Malaysia due to the coronavirus crisis.
Tan shared: “We have proposed an increase of promotion and marketing initiatives for domestic and inbound tourism, easing the criteria and requirements for matching grants, and a review on the tourism tax rate to encourage more tourists to choose Malaysia as a preferred holiday destination.”
He added that other proposed measures include stepping up marketing efforts to correct misbelief that Malaysia is not safe; to promote cross-border tourism; to ease visa requirements, especially for Indian tourists, to make up the shortfall of Chinese arrivals; and harnessing the power of big data to create retargeting and other smart strategies that can be applied immediately to give the Malaysian tourism industry a leg up.
Some of the strategies proposed by MATTA and MAH to stimulate the local tourism industry include a social marketing campaign highlighting that #MalaysiaIsSafe through content created by industry stakeholders and the public; a coordinated marketing plan headed by Tourism Malaysia with content and input from various industry associations; more government events and functions to be held in hotels; as well as expanding the scope and easing the restrictions of the government’s matching grant.
The duo is also calling on the authorities to create a separate emergency fund for a digital marketing matching grant to encourage stakeholders in the private sector to widen their customer reach in a more cost-effective manner; streamlining and easing cross-border clearance to encourage more overland tourism; as well as issuing of frequent health and travel advisories or updates in multiple languages.
Tan said: “MATTA is hopeful that the economic stimulus package to be announced soon (by the government) would far exceed the RM8.1 billion growth plan rolled out in 2003 to help Malaysians mitigate the impact of the SARS outbreak, or the RM60 billion stimulus package announced in 2009 to invigorate vital sectors in the face of the global economic downturn.”