As Malaysia readies to reopen Langkawi to international travellers, the government’s recent announcement that arriving tourists will be required to enlist the services of tour agents registered with the ministry to arrange their entire trip has stirred up criticism among the trade.
Under the international tourism bubble for the Langkawi pilot project which will commence on November 15, tourists from all countries will be allowed into the archipelago, the minister of tourism, arts and culture, Nancy Shukri, said during an event at the Malaysia Tourism Centre on Monday (October 25).
“The agent will be the one who will arrange their entire journey and they will not come directly to Langkawi on their own. This is the mechanism we use, so if anything happens, like infection cases, the agent will be held responsible,” she said.
Adam Kamal, head of contracting & domestic market at Ice Holidays, expressed skepticism about how the rule will be enforced, and suggested making it a requirement that tourists must produce a booking confirmation from a travel agent before their visa can be processed.
“But what about South-east Asian and European tourists who apply for visa-on-arrival? Do you send them back to their country of origin if they do not show proof of a travel agent booking upon their arrival?” he asked.
A grey area he pointed out is whether bookings by foreign OTAs will be acceptable as some of these OTAs have licenses to operate in Malaysia.
Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners secretary, Anthony Wong, opined that it is “unfair” to hold tour operators responsible in the event that something happens, for example, if a client flouts Covid SOPs, as it can be difficult for agents to ensure full compliance among their clients.
He also pointed out that the FIT market is bound to grow worldwide in the new normal, with more and more foreign travellers making their own bookings and travelling independently. “Forcing such travellers to use the services of a travel agent will only prompt them to choose another destination where such rules don’t exist,” he said.
Wong added that it is sufficient that travellers are screened for Covid-19 twice – once before their departure, and another upon arrival in Langkawi.