KOTA KINABALU: Travel bubbles may be just the impetus to jump-start the tourism sector as governments across the world begin easing travel restrictions.

A three-month partial lockdown brought the sector to its knees in the country and tourism players expect its effects to last up to a year or even two years.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said domestic tourism which resumed recently may therefore not be enough to revitalise the sector.

“As nations look to ease travel restrictions, we can explore safe travelling routes with countries that have effectively contained the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

“We can establish international travel under the ‘Green Lane’ concept, with countries in Asean, China (Southern China), Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Australia.”

Tan brought this up during a tourism engagement session hosted by Sabah Tourism Board recently.

During the session he and other industry players discussed with Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Christina Liew their concerns and proposed measures to ensure the revival of the industry.

Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Satta) president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw proposed that for starters, a charter flight be organised to bring in entrepreneurs, cultural and Chinese associations from China with the reopening of international tourism on Sept 1.

Liaw said this would be one way to convince the whole world that it is safe to travel to Sabah.

“We can publicise this widely through Phoenix TV and social media platforms.

“We can invite the Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu, the Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah (FCAS), Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KKCCCI) and Satta to participate in the charter flight.”

Sabah MATTA chairman, Lawrence Chin, meanwhile said the chapter was seeking the state government’s aid to mitigate the severe financial repercussion caused by the pandemic.

“We also propose a RM10,000 direct fund injection per licensed company to defray urgent overhead payments, utilities and rental payments.

“We hope the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry can provide direct funding as a gesture of goodwill and encouragement to Sabah-based tour agencies and operators.”

According to Chin, tour operators and travel agencies have been badly hit with regulatory constraints, travel restrictions and lockdown in place from March 18.

“We are experiencing practically nil revenue from March to September 2020,” he said, adding “however, we are maintaining our staff with the hope that the travel industry will rebound by 2021.”

Towards this end, Tan pressed for a further enhancement of the financial assistance package as businesses are struggling to survive due to severe cash flows, absence or a sharp dip in revenue and high overhead expenses.

He also expressed the hope that the ministry can provide direct funding to Sabah-based tour operators.

He hoped for an extension of the stimulus package that provides temporary relief for B40s and to address the issue of staff retention and avoidance of a possible retrenchment of a further one million employees within the tourism industry.

“For Sabah, the workforce is more than 30,000 employees. The rising number of retrenchments would not only cause hardship to households but would also inflict downward spiral effects on domestic demand and would grind the economy to a halt,” he pointed out,” Tan said.

“One of the biggest focuses to sustain the tourism industry is ensuring cash flow as travel agencies are seeing a 90pc decline in revenue from September 2020.

“With the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) extended to Aug 31 and restrictions on easing of borders, it means that a majority of SME tourism companies that specialise in foreign inbound tourists, transportation, ticketing and outbound tourism have zero revenue for six months.

”As such, it is likely to take at least 12 to 24 months for containment, stabilisation and recovery before people and businesses can return to normalcy.”

Liaw suggested that the loan moratorium period be extended for another six months while urging the government to consider providing direct injection of funds in the form of a subsidy or grant to owners of travel agencies.

“It could be a sum of RM10,000, RM20,000 or RM30,000, depending on the size of the company,” he said.

In response, Liew said she would bring to the attention of the state government the concerns raised by tourism industry players, hoteliers, airlines and other stakeholders.

“I understand the predicament facing the tourism industry. I will relay the recommendations from today’s brainstorming meeting on how to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, to the government for its consideration,” she said.