Langkawi is planning to reopen its doors to foreign travellers soon and be promoted as a Covid-free destination, under a pilot project by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) to kickstart the country’s tourism recovery.
Once successful, the pilot project will be extended to other localities and islands across the country, Noor Zari Hamat, MOTAC secretary-general, said at the Islamic Tourism Centre Corporate forum held last week.
While Noor Zari did not specify a start date for the pilot project, he stated that 80 per cent of the population had to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity before the pilot project could take off.
In a report by Bernama last month, Kedah chief minister, Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, said he was hoping the project could take off in September or October, with Langkawi welcoming fully vaccinated foreign tourists.
Anthony Wong, president of Langkawi Business Association, opined that to date, between 35 to 45 per cent of the population in Langkawi had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and that at least 20 per cent of the population had received both doses.
Wong added that he has been talking with senior officers at Tourism Malaysia who told him they were trying to get international and regional airlines to resume their services to Langkawi.
He said some stakeholders in Langkawi, such as boat operators, hotels and tour operators, are preparing for the reopening of the island by “getting their house in order”, while others are taking a wait-and see approach.
Uzaidi Udanis, president, Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA), pointed out that tourism activities in Langkawi has been at a standstill since March, when inter-district and interstate travel was banned by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19. However, even before March, Langkawi had seen a drop in the number of domestic tourists.
He shared that the main task of MITA currently is to prepare members for the reopening and to ensure stakeholders are ready to receive international tourists.
Uzaidi said that following discussions with stakeholders, three key issues have been identified: first, the lack of human resources as many locals who had been working in Langkawi have since returned to their hometowns; two, the maintenance of tourism products which have been neglected due to the temporary ban on domestic tourism; and three, product readiness.
“We need to ensure we have very good products and local storytellers to ensure international guests have a very good experience when they visit. We are competing with the likes of the Maldives, Bali and Phuket,” he said.
Adam Kamal, head of contracting & domestic market at Ice Holidays, shared that authorities in Langkawi should also ensure that the health facilities are adequate to handle international travellers, who might be infected with Covid-19.
“We should take heed of what had happened in Phuket”, he said, referring to the incident where Phuket reported its first Covid-19 case from overseas on July 7 after reopening to international tourists.