MATTA: Extreme measures needed to save tourism sector

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) has urged the government to be proactive and come up with an enhanced and targeted rescue plan for tour and travel agents in light of the latest Movement Control Order (MCO) and the bleak forecast on travel this year.

President Datuk Tan Kok Liang (pic) said the tourism businesses were currently in extreme distress due to the very fragile and uncertain business environment which was expected to continue late into 2021.

“Tour and travel agents have been battling with collapsing revenue and liquidity problems since the start of the pandemic and the government’s efforts have not made any significant impact on this segment of the industry,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Tan said tour and travel agents were essential to Malaysia’s economy as the majority of these businesses contributed significantly to inbound traffic in Malaysia in the form of both leisure and business travellers.

He said many agencies also provided crucial logistics services and maintained fleets of buses and other tourist vehicles vital to the tourism infrastructure of the country.

“Tourism has played an important part towards the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it is the third largest contributor in previous years,” said Tan.

The industry contributed 14.1 per cent (RM166 billion) to the GDP in 2015, 14.5 per cent (RM182 billion) in 2016, 14.6 per cent (RM201 billion) in 2017, 15.2 per cent (RM220 billion) in 2018 and 15.9 per cent (RM240 billion) in 2019.

“For 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had vastly affected the tourism industry with an estimated total loss exceeding RM100 billion,” said Tan.

He said while the hotel industry was expecting more hotels to close or wind up due to the second phase of MCO and continuous closure of borders, more travel agents, especially those owning tourism vehicles, were very likely to face the same fate as those hoteliers.

“Tourism businesses are expected to suffer more losses and the government must provide an extension on the loan moratorium and enhanced wage subsidy programmes until June 30, 2021. Relief’s on rental, insurance and statutory licensing fees are also needed to help those who are affected especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who have already had to burn a lot of cash just to survive the last MCO,” he said.

MATTA also urged travel businesses to go for consolidation and mergers. According to Tan, over 5,000 travel companies are now in dire condition and the government needs to initiate rehabilitation programmes as the situation will get worse.

He said allowing travel agents to close business premises and operate from home and the cancellation of the mandatory Travel & Tours Enhancement Course (TTEC) programmes for travel companies were good gestures of support.

MATTA has urged employees of travel agencies to go for reskilling during this challenging time. However, the association expressed disappointment that the government did not allocate funds for reskilling tourism workers at large apart from the 8,000 aviation workers as announced in Budget 2021.

“It is also imperative for the government to resolve the issues on deposits held by airlines and related service providers, make urgent corrections to the (outdated) Tourism Industry Act 1992 and provide flexibility of approval for conversion of tour buses into other categories in order to allow these buses to be utilised for other purposes—these are practical measures that the government needs to assist,” he said.

Tan said it was no longer “business as usual” under the Covid-19 pandemic and MATTA urged the various government agencies to make immediate policy changes to ease the financial burden of the hardest hit industry in Malaysia.