KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Satta) has appealed to the State Government to allow Malaysian tourists from other states to enter Sabah without having to undergo 14-day quarantine on condition that they could produce medical proof of being free of Covid-19 in effort to revive the tourism sector.
Its president, Datuk Seri Winston Liaw, hoped that the government would also eventually resume direct flights from China and South Korea, which had managed to contain their Covid-19 infections, to Sabah.
He said the opening of domestic tourism activities was good news to industry players.
However, he doubted whether Sabahans would arrange inter-district vacation through travel agents.
“Locals could have gone to Tenom or Kudat on their own without going through travel agents.
“In fact, more than 90 percent of locals only travel to other districts such as Kudat, Tenom and Kuala Penyu or tourist attractions in the state when there are friends or relatives visiting from outside Sabah.
“We do welcome the resumption of tourism activities but I am afraid it might not achieve the desired impact,” he said.
Liaw said this when asked to comment on the opening of more sectors in the state during the fifth phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO), one of which was the tourism sector.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal said domestic tourism (within Sabah only) was allowed as well as all activities that included offering accommodation, adventure and recreation, tourist attractions, food and beverage, ticketing services and transportation among others.
Hotels are also allowed to reopen but facilities like suraus, gymnasium, spa, sauna, lounge, swimming pool, meeting rooms, seminar hall, training room and buffets are to remain closed.
Shafie also said that the State Government had decided to increase the number of domestic flights to and from Sabah and urged aviation companies to increase flights from Kuala Lumpur / Johor Bahru / Pulau Pinang / Kota Bahru / Alor Star / Kuching / Miri / Bintulu to Sabah and vice versa.
Although the State Government had urged aviation companies to increase flights from West Malaysia and Sarawak to Sabah, Liaw doubted whether tourists would visit the state if they had to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
As such, he suggested the State Government to consider doing away with the quarantine order on condition that the West Malaysian or Sarawakian tourists provided proof that they had tested negative for Covid-19 before their trip.
“This suggestion applies to incentive and training trips organized by companies as well.”
He said aviation companies still had business because students were flying back to their hometowns this month, after which the number of passengers might drop sharply in June if tourists had to subject to mandatory quarantine.
Liaw hoped that the State Government would consider resuming direct flights from China and Korea in June if the Covid-19 situation in Sabah and the two countries was well contained, on condition that the foreign tourists provided proof of their good health.
“We hope that the State Government will allow direct flights to selected cities in China soon, under strict condition that the tourists provide health declaration that they are free from Covid-19, as we fear the second wave of infection as well.
“Our state’s economy could restart if we could get just half of the previous number of tourist arrivals from China and Korea.”
He said Sabah had to open its doors to foreign tourists soon because international arrivals would not rebound overnight.
“Our tourism industry needs to restart as soon as possible to ensure travel agencies do not lay off their employees, as we have lost more than 95 percent of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If our tourism industry only opens to international arrivals in October or November, many travel agencies will shut down for good,” said Liaw.
He said tourism players could focus on the China, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan markets, which had managed to keep the Covid-19 outbreak in check.
“Countries like China, Taiwan and Korea might become green zones in three to four weeks.
“If they start to travel, we will be able to restart our tourism engine.”
On another note, Liaw said travel agencies would not open immediately for business even though the State Government had given the green light for domestic tourism.
He said his travel agency would first undergo disinfection and installation of transparent panels, like in banks, to protect employees and clients against droplets that put them at risk of infection.
He said travel agencies had to reestablish contact with their counterparts in China and Korea, revise their costing for accommodation, entrance fee into tourist attractions and other expenses as some premises might have waived or made adjustment to their pricing.
Liaw added that his office would operate at half capacity, as there was not much business at the moment.
“Our employees will come to office for three days a week on a rotational basis.
“This arrangement may be in place for the next six months.”
Meanwhile, Popular Express Travel on its Facebook page stated that the company has decided to remain closed until the fifth phase of the MCO ends on June 9, despite easing of the MCO as announced by Shafie on Sunday.
Nevertheless, the travel agency’s employees would be working remotely at home with ticketing system.