Kickstart plans to reopen borders or risk falling behind, govt told

The travel industry says the government must plan now to take advantage of the impending tourism recovery.

PETALING JAYA: Stakeholders have warned that Malaysia’s tourism industry would fall further behind if the government does not come up with a proper plan for vaccinated travellers to enter the country.

Their comments come after Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran suggested for the government to open Malaysia’s borders to tourists and business travellers who have received the vaccine, becoming the first Asian country to do so.

Malaysian Association of Hotels president N Subramaniam and Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang said they supported the proposal, but Putrajaya must begin making arrangements as soon as possible.

Subramaniam said the country needed a blueprint detailing the reopening of borders in stages, quarantine durations and health verifications, as well as a new “special pass” system for travellers.

He said the industry’s frontliners must have access to the vaccine before they began accommodating foreign tourists.

“Early plans must be initiated to ensure Malaysia can take advantage of the impending tourism recovery,” he told FMT.

“It is very much a ‘do or die’ situation. If we are not ready with such plans, we will fall further behind and recovery will be longer for Malaysia.”

Although no countries have adopted immunity passports yet, Subramaniam noted that other governments had already initiated travel bubbles and corridors for people who either tested negative or got vaccinated.

Tan pointed out that Thailand and Singapore were already establishing new strategies to welcome tourists again, but “Malaysia was working backwards” by focusing on closing borders and domestic travel restrictions.

He said the government needed to come up with strategies to reduce the risk of new infections and travel arrangements that allowed for a “clean and safe end-to-end journey”.

Malaysia, he said, could also adopt health and safety protocols set by global groups, such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation and World Tourism Organisation.

“We need to move forward. Consistent, coordinated and aligned reciprocal arrangements will facilitate the opening of borders,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Business Survival Group, representing some 950,000 companies, said it wanted the government to lift bans on interstate travel and businesses on the “negative list” by March 18 or sooner if the Covid-19 situation improves further.

The businesses on the negative list include indoor theme parks, family entertainment centres and live events.

“This will return consumer confidence and drive the domestic demand cycles that will fuel the growth of our economy,” the group added in a statement.