Tourism firms seek aid to protect jobs, businesses

BATTERED tourism players are pinning high hopes on the 2021 Budget to revive the sector's fortunes and help them stay afloat.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said the tourism industry would remain fragile and sensitive next year, and even beyond, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, he said, measures such as Penjana Tourism Financing did not sit well with small and medium-sized enterprises, who were cautious about future repayments.

He called for more effective measures to be introduced in the 2021 Budget to protect jobs and businesses in the sector.

"The moratorium should be extended until at least June as the tourism industry has been crippled and businesses are unable to repay their loans.

"MATTA agrees with the Malaysian Association of Hotels on a proposed two-tiered wage subsidy system, similarly used in Singapore, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

"The tiered system calls on the government to provide a 50 per cent subsidy for employees earning up to RM4,000 and 30 per cent for those earning between RM4,001 and RM8,000.

"The wage subsidy programme should also be extended at least until June."

Tan asked the government to provide more funding to encourage tourism players to invest in digitalisation.

"As the national tourism association, we ask for a RM20 million grant to boost the MATTA online platform and e-hailing platform for the marketplace.

"The government should incentivise domestic travel through a personal income tax relief of RM8,000 per person for domestic travel packages, purchased through licensed travel agencies or tour operators, inclusive o f accommodation, ground transportation and tours."

Tan urged the government to introduce tax relief to boost consumer spending.

"MATTA's budget wish list includes tax relief for businesses and individuals, double tax deductions for all costs for employees' local company trips (tour packages), and relief to companies which are willing to send their employees to local MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions) events.

"These will encourage companies to retain and reskill their employees.

"Other relief proposed includes granting 100 per cent exemption for import and excise duty, allowing the import of complete build-up coaches and higher-end tourism vehicles, extending tax incentives granted for inbound and domestic tour companies to 2023, and extending the Human Resources Development Fund levy exemption to next month.

"We hope for a bigger budget for upgrading tourism infrastructure; working capital for promotions and marketing (matching grant) and business adjustment post-Covid-19."

Tan said international travel restrictions were cutting into their earnings and that inbound tourism was one of Malaysia's most lucrative exports.

He urged the government to gradually reopen international borders in the first quarter of 2021, starting with Asean countries.

Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association president Uzaidi Udanis said: "Tourism players are getting familiar with new concepts, such as virtual tourism. So we welcome marketing incentives to boost our promotions."

He hoped the government would review the mandatory rule for travel agencies to have physical offices as a prerequisite to operate.