PETALING JAYA: Economists, tourism industry players and even health experts agree that the time has come to throw the doors open to tourists.
Reducing the rate of new Covid-19 infections to zero is difficult. On the other hand, the ailing economy needs to be resuscitated, they said.
However, they also warned that any step to reopen the country to tourists must be taken with extreme caution.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism industry in most parts of the world as national borders were closed to prevent import of new infections. Malaysia has yet to start admitting tourists.
Independent economist Dr Baayah Baba said the time has come for Malaysia to open its international borders to boost tourism.
He said the country does not need to wait until there are no more new cases of Covid-19 to reopen its doors.
“We can form ‘travel bubbles’ with our Asean neighbours which have already been declared ‘green’ zones,” he told theSun.
Baayah said allowing tourists into the country would stimulate the economy but all visitors must be made to observe standard operating procedures.
On June 26, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said all Asean governments should quickly implement measures to open “travel bubbles” among “green” states within the bloc.
The concept refers to the easing of travel restrictions between countries where the level of Covid-19 infections are significantly low.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said 75% of international tourist arrivals to Malaysia are from Asean countries.
“Our country is small and we cannot just depend on domestic travel. (The travel bubble proposal) is a good move.”
He said the country could start by admitting business travellers as well as those who travel for educational or medical purposes.
“Thereafter, we can welcome leisure travellers,” he added.
Tan noted that Malaysia has a good record in managing the pandemic. He said with a combined population of more than 600 million, intra-trade within Asean countries would also help mitigate the financial impact of the health crisis.
Malaysian Association Tour Agency president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun said tour operators are ready to serve tourists but wondered if other service providers are as prepared.
“All service providers need to adhere to the new normal protocols. They must ensure tourists abide by these regulations at airports, during transportation and at hotels,” he said.
“Together with product owners, they must come together and synchronise as travel agents are here only to accept bookings and bring the tourists to their destinations.”
While new protocols must be drawn up, tour operators also need to know how to respond to an emergency and be clear on what should be done if a positive case is detected among a tour group, he added.
Virologist Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit said there is no need for the country to wait until there are no new infections to open its borders.
He pointed out that New Zealand and Australia were among the first countries to adopt the green bubble arrangement. Since then, other countries have followed suit.
“It must be done by mutual agreement with green zone countries, with reciprocal agreements that there should be no quarantine on either side,” he said.
“With the appropriate precautions taken, there will be minimal risks. We cannot afford to wait too long or we will lose out in terms of tourism to other countries.”
Lam said Singapore and Malaysia have a special relationship and it is time the two countries seriously consider reopening their borders for trade, tourism, education, and labour.