PETALING JAYA: Tourism industry players have a lot at stake in the Aug 12 state elections.
For them, a win by Perikatan Nasional (PN) in Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan could lead to a decline in tourist arrivals, which is a major contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2019, the year before travel restrictions were imposed in the war against Covid-19, Malaysia welcomed more than 26 million visitors who collectively spent RM86.14 billion in the country.
At the centre of the tourism industry’s worry is alcohol. The fear is that under a PN administration, there will be restrictions, if not a total ban, on the sale of alcoholic drinks.
Such restrictions would reduce Malaysia’s appeal as a holiday destination for foreign visitors, according to Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) president Christina Toh.
Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu will also hold elections on the same day but these states are already firmly in the hands of PN, which comprises Islamic party PAS and its Malay nationalist partner Bersatu.
Multiracial Gerakan is a minor party in the coalition and is not expected to wield enough influence to soften the hardline Islamic stance taken by its partners.
“Tourism is a big revenue generator for the country. If PN has new policies on the sale of alcoholic drinks, they should be more careful when deciding on a ban,” Toh told FMT Business.
Her concerns are not without basis. On Jan 11, this year, Kedah menteri besar Sanusi Nor announced that the sale of alcoholic drinks in non-Muslim majority districts in the state would be regulated.
“It cannot be sold openly in areas such as villages,” he had said then. Over and above that, the sale of such drinks are not allowed from Thursdays until after Friday prayers.
While it is not a total ban, it has drawn the ire of many who are concerned about the impact it will have on Langkawi, the country’s main tourist resort.
“With due respect, these restrictions will definitely affect our tourism industry,” Toh said.
“In places like Indonesia, they don’t impose such policies other than (during) the fasting month,” she added.
Malaysian Budget and Business Hotels Association (MyBHA) president Ganesh Michiel agrees that access to acoholic drinks is important for tourists.
“Even if they don’t allow alcoholic drinks to be sold, people will still sell it, but illegally,” he told FMT Business.
The impact that the restriction has had on Langkawi is significant. In March, MyBHA Langkawi branch chairman Noorazly Rosly said the number of hotel guests on the island was 70% lower than in the same month in 2019, before the start of the pandemic.
This was despite the fact that all travel restrictions had been lifted by then.
Ganesh emphasised that the impact of such a policy would vary depending on the state’s main attractions, and the profile of tourists.
For example, Penang’s main attraction is food, whereas a big part of Langkawi’s lustre is duty-free shopping and liquor.
“Whether there is a change of (state) government or (not), whatever policy that comes out should be tourism friendly,” Ganesh said.
“When the state loses tourists and visitors, automatically the locals there who do business won’t be able to (survive),” he added.