The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry is targeting about two million international tourists this year following the reopening of international borders on April 1. — Bernama photo
KUCHING (March 27): The country’s economy has been crippled by the pandemic, more so when its borders — alongside global ones — have been shut since March 2020 to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
International tourism came to a halt, whilst the entry of foreign workers has been frozen due to the pandemic. In fact, the tourism industry has been battered by prolonged closures and lockdowns, seeing international visitors dropping from 26 million in 2019 to 4.3 million in 2020, and revenues from RM86.1 billion to RM 12.7 billion.
All this is about to change as Malaysia will reopen its borders to international travellers starting April 1, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said earlier this month.
He said visitors, as well as Malaysian returnees, who are fully vaccinated are not required to undergo quarantine upon arrival. They, however, must undergo a RT-PCR test two days before departure and a rapid test (RTK) upon arrival.
“As part of our “Transitioning to Endemicity” phase, the government has decided to reopen the country’s borders from April 1. This move will revive the country’s economy, especially the tourism industry that has been heavily affected by the pandemic,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference in Parliament on March 8.
“The decision is made based on science and current facts related to Covid-19, as well as the reopening of borders in other countries. The country also wants to provide comfort to travellers and to not complicate their travel process.
“Most importantly, Malaysia is now a destination that is open and can be visited by all For foreign travellers arriving into Malaysia, they are no longer required to apply through MyTravelPass.”
Ismail Sabri said they are only required to download the MySejahtera app and must complete a pre-departure form.
As for Malaysians, Ismail Sabri said those with valid documents are free to travel to any other country that has reopened their borders to visitors.
Following this, industry players, especially those in tourism, are excited for coming prospects. The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry is targeting about two million international tourists this year following the reopening of international borders on April 1.
Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri hoped to achieve RM8.6 billion in revenue from these visitors.
However, for domestic tourism, she said the ministry had not set a target but hoped to see at least 50 per cent of what the sector generated in 2019.
“In 2019, we earned RM103 billion from domestic tourism. We hope (this year), if possible, to obtain at least 50% of that.
“But we know to get what we had in 2019 is difficult at this moment in time. We still pray and hope that (tourism this year) will be active and exceed what we want,” she said in reply to Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub (BN-Machang) in the Dewan Rakyat March 16.
Meanwhile, Sarawak’s Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the state will follow the federal government’s decision to enter the transition to endemicity from April 1.
This comes as the transition to endemicity is an exit strategy that will allow people to try and resume a normal life after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This means that foreigners may enter Sarawak with less stringent health requirements, Uggah explained.
“The Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) is currently planning logistics and strategies to enable our borders to open up,” he said at a dinner held in conjunction with the National Conference on Dayak Women.
He added that tight standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be loosened, adding that the SDMC will announce the new SOPs to the public in due course.
“However, it does not mean that Covid-19 is no longer a threat. It will still be very much around us. It is very important to always stay vigilant,” said Uggah.
Sky’s the limit — once again — for aviation players
2022 looks to be a promising year for the aviation sector as border openings to international visitors in a number of countries means a revival of the airline industry, perhaps even to pre-pandemic levels over the course of the year.
According to Rob Morris, global head of Consultancy at Ascend by Cirium, for the Covid-recovery scenario, the airline industry globally was looking forward to a more positive 2022 as many regions finally managed to deal with Covid-19 and reduced travel restrictions, which in turn would allow frustrated demand to be released and continue the generally positive demand recovery trend observed through much of 2021.
“As a consequence, Ascend by Cirium’s demand-recovery scenario was projecting that global traffic would recover to 75 per cent of 2019 levels by August 2022,” Morris said.
However, he noted that the conflict in Ukraine and consequent airspace restrictions, coupled with resultant economic uncertainty in Europe and beyond and generally higher oil and fuel prices globally, significantly threaten that demand recovery.
Morris highlighted that it remains too early to model the scale of the impact but it is already clear that unless there is some swift resolution then 2022 will be a more challenging year than expected.
For Malaysia, which is set to open its borders on April 1, 2022, airline operators here are finally able to let out a sigh of relief.
“This spells good news for the aviation players that had been waiting for an official announcement on this matter after the National Recovery Council (NRC) had suggested for quarantine-free travel to be allowed from as early as March 1, 2022 earlier last month,” the research arm of MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd (MIDF Research) opined.
On Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), MIDF Research gathered that the group’s international passenger traffic for its Malaysian airports network contracted to 1.4 million (down 85.3 per cent y-o-y), while domestic passenger traffic fared better at 9.4 million (down 42.3 per cent y-o-y).
“The decision to reopen the border is a much-needed boost for the international passenger movements which merely makes up three per cent of pre-pandemic level,” the research arm said.
“Overall, MAHB’s total passenger traffic stood at 10.7m (-58.5 per cent y-o-y) in FY21, making up about 10 per cent of 2019’s traffic.”
As for any impact from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, MIDF Research highlighted that MAHB’s management expects MAHB to be minimally impacted by the crisis as these two countries only contribute less than 10 per cent of the international passenger traffic in its Turkish operations.
MIDF Research also recapped that MAHB carried out several cost rationalisation exercises throughout FY21, which included the reduction of staff, utilities and maintenance costs.
“For MAHB, its core operating costs were effectively reduced to -RM1.36 billion (up 11.2 per cent y-o-y) driven by reduction of staff, utilities and maintenance costs, among others.”
The research arm added that MAHB’s cash balance remained healthy at RM1.58 billion as at end-FY21 (end-FY20: RM973.7 million).
AirAsia to relaunch many routes
For AirAsia, it welcomes the announcement by the Malaysian government to fully open international borders on April 1 and is ready to paint the international skies red again.
In a statement earlier this week, the group highlighted that since AirAsia resumed its operations with travel bubbles and a focus on domestic services, the gradual resumption of international flying is already well underway in tandem with borders gradually reopening around the world.
“With the continued easing of travel restrictions, the airline group has increased its domestic flight capacity by 156 per cent since October 2021 that kickstarted with the Langkawi travel bubble, and by 50 per cent for international flights since the Malaysian government’s announcement of borders reopening in April, on March 8, 2022, with a total of 75 aircraft in operations currently group-wide,” the statement read.
“This was also supported by the reopening of other countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam.
“While the airline currently has a number of international services already operating, the announcement of the nation’s reopening will provide a welcome boost to support additional capacity in many of its core international markets in line with significant pent up demand.”
AirAsia Aviation Group Ltd’s group chief executive officer (CEO) Bo Lingam applauded governments around the region for their decision to reopen borders, removing travel restrictions with minimal testing requirements, thus making travel easy for everyone.
“We’re thrilled to be resuming more flights in all of our core markets in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia and to be adding additional services to some of AirAsia’s most popular international destinations including Bali, Manila, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Phuket and more, starting in April. Domestic flying also continues to soar across the group,” Lingam added.
“We have recently launched four new domestic routes in Malaysia from Kuching to Langkawi, Penang to Sibu, Johor Bahru to Bintulu and Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Terengganu this year.
“Regionally, we have seen similarly encouraging developments for domestic and international services in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
“We will continue to review our network which evolves based on a number of factors including demand. New services will be announced in due course as the world continues to gradually reopen.
“While our domestic services across the group have grown by 156 per cent in recent months due to significant consumer demand, and by 50 per cent for international, we expect to return to 100 per cent or more of pre-Covid domestic and international flying by the end of this year.”
Meanwhile, AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat said that thanks to the reopening of Malaysia’s border they can plan to relaunch many new routes from their main hub at klia2.
“For the reassurance of our guests, safety is always our utmost priority and we continuously strive to provide world-class service quality and a stellar guest experience with a commitment to adhering to stringent safety rules and procedures,” he added.
“While we are extensively prepared to ensure all of our guests can travel safely from an operational standpoint through the robust safety and health measures that we have in place, we would also like to remind our guests to adhere to all SOPs set by the government during your travels.”
Malaysia Airlines ramp up
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines is also set to welcome passengers to Fly Malaysia and enjoy full-service offerings following the gradual reopening of borders around the world, with increased capacity to selected international routes within its network.
“In anticipation of increased passenger volume, its Golden Lounge at the Satellite building in KL International Airport will also reopen on April 1, 2022,” Malaysia Airlines’ statement read.
“Starting March 27, 2022, Malaysia Airlines will increase frequency to its flagship Kuala Lumpur-London route to 11 times weekly and will return to full double daily service from July 1 onwards.
“On the same date, the national carrier will be reinstating scheduled commercial services to India, namely New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, after close to 24 months suspension due to border closure between the two countries.
“Starting April 1, 2022, Malaysia Airlines will increase capacity to Bangkok from seven times weekly to 14 times weekly and to Phuket from once-a-week to three times weekly.
“This comes after Thailand recently relaxed entry requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers.”
Additionally, Malaysia Airlines has begun flying to Bali, with once-a-week flight, beginning March 11, 2022.
“Fully vaccinated customers travelling to Singapore can continue to enjoy the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme from Kuala Lumpur and Penang, providing them with ease of quarantine-free access.
“Meanwhile, the recently reinstated flights to Australia will also see an increase from five times weekly to seven times weekly to Sydney and from two times weekly to five times weekly to Perth following a steady demand for travels on the Australasia region.”
Boost in the arm for medical tourism
As a sector heavily reliant on international travel as its main source of income, medical tourism sector players stand gain the most from the reopening of international borders.
As an agency tasked to facilitate and promote the healthcare travel industry of Malaysia, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) continues to uphold its commitment in providing quality healthcare to international patients that is accessible and affordable, within a safe and trusted destination.
“To ensure healthcare travellers still get the needed medical care and to maintain industry sustainability, Malaysia quickly worked on recovery plans and became one of the first countries in the world to introduce a medical travel bubble in July 2020,” explained MHTC chief executive officer Mohd Daud Mohd Arif in an exclusive with BizHive recently.
“It allowed us to provide continuity of care, especially to patients who require crucial and timely treatments such as cardiac and cancer patients, among other, subject to our strict SOPs.
“In preparation to recover and rebuild the industry, we are also charting a new course for a continuous and sustainable industry growth which has been strategically proposed for roll-out over the next five years guided by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025. Our overall aspiration is to provide the best Malaysia Healthcare travel experience by 2025.”
With the government recently made an announcement on the full reopening of Malaysia’s borders to the international travellers starting from 1 April 2022, Mohd Daud said this was a positive indicator of the nation’s economic growth and capability in moving towards endemicity.
“The country’s healthcare travel industry is ready to welcome more healthcare travellers to come and Experience Malaysia Healthcare and its end-to-end experience towards their journey of recovery,” he added.
“The reopening of Malaysia’s borders on 1 April 2022 is a significant step forward as we move towards endemicity, and a positive indicator of the nation’s economic growth. This reinforces Malaysia Healthcare’s commitment in providing continuity of care to all.”
Mohd Daud said the council will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and its member hospitals to ensure patients’ safety is upheld, providing them peace of mind when they seek treatments.
Healthcare travellers will stand to experience a holistic end-to-end journey where they will be well taken care prior to departing their home countries, to seeking medical care and enjoying what Malaysia has to offer leisurely.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry had contributed significantly to the national economy. The number of healthcare travellers that came to Malaysia from 2011 to 2019 increased by about 90 per cent and in 2019, Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry recorded RM1.7 billion in revenue.
“Based on our initial projections, we estimate that as the industry recovers, Malaysian healthcare has the potential to contribute up to RM7 billion to the economy by 2025,” he added.
“As such, it is vital that we stay top of mind for healthcare travellers when it comes to our position as a safe and trusted healthcare travel destination.”
To ensure growth of this sector, MHTC is currently charting a new course for a continuous and sustainable industry growth which has been strategically proposed for roll-out over the next five years guided by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025.
“Our overall aspiration is to provide the best Malaysian healthcare travel experience by 2025,” he continued. “As part of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Industry Blueprint 2021-2025, several initiatives are in the pipeline to drive industry recovery (2021-2022) and rebuild (2023-2025) efforts, including the below targeted niche offerings for the healthcare travellers:
- Fortifying Malaysia as the fertility and cardiology hubs of Asia
- Establishing Malaysia as the cancer care centre of excellence
- Cementing Malaysia as the Hepatitis C treatment hub of Asia
- Implementation of the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme
- Establishing a framework for international retirement living
To support the Blueprint aspirations, the strategy framework is key in anchoring all levels to reach a common goal. A total of three strategic pillars were identified as key focus areas in achieving the best Malaysia healthcare travel experience by 2025.
“The blueprint will chart recovery and rebuilding strategies to continue growing the healthcare travel industry as one of the country’s key export services, in addition to the strategies and framework for healthcare travel industry stakeholders, anchoring on high quality, affordability, seamless journey, accessibility factors at each touch point in the ecosystem,” Mohd Daud said.
“In accordance with the five-year timeline that was mapped out in the Blueprint, the focus on developing the key initiatives within the strategic pillars will shift dynamically as the Blueprint moves across Recovery phase from 2021 to 2022 and the Rebuild phase from 2023 to 2025.”
During the Recovery phase, more emphasis will be placed on the Healthcare Travel Ecosystem as readiness measures for the industry to recover and move into the Rebuild phase.
During the Rebuild phase, the focus will shift to the Malaysia Healthcare Brand and Markets to boost brand presence in the region and scale up Malaysia Healthcare’s services.
By focusing on ‘Experience’ as the primary industry focus, the Blueprint will focus on the five areas to provide the best Malaysia Healthcare travel experience by 2025. They are high quality, safety, affordability, hospitality, and seamless journey.
CME: To save tourism, make open borders really open
The Malaysian tourism industry is looking with great expectations at the reopening of international borders which is scheduled to happen at the beginning of April.
However, the Center for Market Education (CME) observes that the recently announced procedures for borders “reopening” – while a step in the right direction – still present too many obstacles to make Malaysia an attractive destination for mass tourism.
Like many other countries, Malaysia will require proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and a negative PCR test result before departure; these measures are among the more reasonable ones, although they still can constitute a limit for tourism revival,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
In fact, with the price for PCR tests internationally oscillating between US$100 and US$200, a family with children could see its necessary budget seriously increasing when compared with the pre-Great Lockdown era; therefore, many could shift toward tourism in their own countries.
“As mentioned, however, most countries will still require PCR tests and it will take years to see this disappearing: emergency measures come fast and go very slowly.
“Probably we all remember that before the Twin Towers attack we could bring liquids in the airplane cabin,” declared Dr Carmelo Ferlito, chief executive officer of the Center for Market Education.
“Well, after the attack we were forbidden from doing so and after more than ten years liquids are still forbidden into the cabin for the fear of terroristic attacks.”
Contrary to the case of other countries, Ferlito opined that Malaysia will impose further limitations to the revival of international tourism.
Among them include the obligatoriness of downloading MySejahtera application.
“The need to fill several forms and to continuously scan QR codes can discourage the elderly and people who do not like the idea of being tracked every few meters,” he said.
“Compulsory face masks: it is easy to recognise that it is undesirable to spend a vacation by wearing a face mask, in particular for outdoor vacations, where the function of the face mask is completely lost.
“RTK test at the arrival: it has not been declared yet, but in all likelihood the Malaysian authorities are going to charge tourists for this, like it happens now with the PCR test at arrival; many business visitors are currently caught by surprise when, after being tested for Covid, they are blocked at another counter and asked to pay RM 250 for that test.”
The Center for Market Education looks with concern at the measures in place after April 1 and invites the authorities to reconsider the decisions and to move in the direction of a true border reopening, if the tourism industry has to be revived and not just illuded.
CME invites to reflect on the fact that harsh measures have not prevented Malaysia to record the worst score in terms of Covid-19 deaths per million people at regional level.
“Despite the highest vaccination rate, the longest lockdowns, the longest closure of international borders (accompanied by sever domestic movement restrictions) and the highest compliance to restrictions such as the face masks, Malaysia recorded 1,044 deaths per million people, while Indonesia stands at 553, the Philippines at 520, Vietnam at 425 and Thailand at 349.
“Recognising, thus, that all the restrictions in place played a very limited role – if any – in keeping the pandemic at bay.
Among CME’s proposals include dropping RTK tests at arrival, while the PCR test prior departure, which already represents an important cost for tourists, should be sufficient.
“MySejahtera should disappear once and for all, to give back to citizens and visitors their freedom of movement, in the respect of individual privacy.
“Without these important steps, Malaysia will be unable to boost tourism to pre-pandemic levels, blocking occasions for economic growth and employment revival.”