Tourism players in Malaysia warn that expensive domestic flights could deter holidaymakers, even as the government urges airlines to reduce their fares, following a public outcry over sky-high ticket prices.
Senior minister (security cluster), Ismail Sabri Yaakob, was quoted by The Star as saying on Friday that airlines should lower their airfares to levels before the movement control order (MCO), as they are now allowed to operate at full capacity.
He said: “In the beginning, we understood ticket prices were high because the airlines could not accept full seating capacity due to social distancing measures. The maximum capacity they could accept was just 66 per cent. But now, we have allowed airlines to operate at full capacity without social distancing measures.”
Last month, during a meeting held by the Ministry of Transport with the country’s three biggest airlines – Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo Air – the airlines had explained the need to ensure bookings were stable and consistent before prices could be normalised to pre-Covid-19 levels.
The government has allowed airlines to operate at full capacity since June 10, when the recovery movement control order was enforced.
Adam Kamal, general manager at Suka Travel and Tours, said high airfares and limited number of flights have made it difficult to promote Sabah, Sarawak and Langkawi to people from the Klang Valley.
“Due to the high airfares, we are currently giving priority to destinations which is accessible by road from Kuala Lumpur.”
Raaj Navaratnaa, general manager, New Asia Holidays Tours & Travel, shared that flight bookings made one month in advance from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu is at least 50 per cent higher than the period before the MCO was enforced.
“This is not helping domestic tourism. If prices are not lowered to pre-pandemic levels, people will restraint from travelling locally,” he added.
On the other hand, Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa managing director, Anthony Wong, said that the high flight prices are understandable. He explained: “(The airlines) have to survive also, and demand for air travel is poor. It may not be so economical to lower airfares (now). The market is such that only those who can afford it are travelling for the time being.”