KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian Chinese Tourism Association (MCTA) Sabah chapter president Lawrence Wong welcomed Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew’s announcement that Sabah was looking to reopen its doors to international tourists by September 1 this year.
“We are excited to hear the news as the tourism industry has taken a hard hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The tourism industry has been in hibernation mode for a few months yet we still have to pay the expenses,” he said yesterday.
Liew, who is also the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, said the process would involve some selected countries starting with those that had existing cooperation with Sabah like China as the Covid-19 pandemic was under control in some of its provinces.
Wong hoped that the State Government would assist tourism players, including requesting banks to extend its loan repayment moratorium to travel agencies and hotels for another six months.
He pointed out that the tourism sector was the first to feel the brunt of Covid-19’s impact and almost the last industry to reopen, unlike the food and beverage (F&B), supermarkets and retail sectors.
He said those who could no longer cope under the financial pressure would close shop, causing massive unemployment.
Wong said it was unlikely for tourism players to be able to make loan repayments in October when foreign tourists just started to return to Sabah in September.
“Hence, we hope that banks could extend the loan repayment moratorium for another six months for tourism players to regain our financial footing.”
He also stressed the importance of taking precautions to prevent a second wave of outbreak in Sabah.
He said the government should look into encouraging domestic tourism as many West Malaysians had never been to Sabah, while a lot of Sabahans had not visited other states in the peninsula.
Additionally, Wong said another effective way to stimulate tourism was the issuance of travel vouchers by the government.
“Individuals with the travel vouchers can subsequently sign up for tours at travel agencies. This is the fastest and most direct method to stimulate the tourism sector,” he said.
He also said that the governments should negotiate with airlines for promotional prices in September to entice travellers to visit Sabah.
Wong fervently hoped that the government would assist tourism players during these challenging times, as the sector was a big contributor to the economy.
“If the Covid-19 pandemic is well contained, we will welcome foreign tourists in September.
“I hope the situation will improve for the tourism industry by year end.”
On another note, he encouraged locals to take the opportunity to travel within Sabah before the return of international tourists.
He said there were many places worth a visit in the state, such as the islands, Sabah Agriculture Park in Tenom, Kudat, Semporna and cultural attractions.
“Rest assured that these destinations, including boat operators and tour buses, abide by the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
“It is very safe to go travel. Do go travel after a few months being cooped up at home. This will stimulate the local economy as well.
“We do not encourage travelling in large groups of course, only small groups,” he said.
Wong also urged the public to make their bookings via legitimate travel agencies rather than being lured into cheap travel packages that could possibly be a scam.