Allow us to reopen first, then give us handouts, tourism players tell govt

The Penang Jazz Hotel in Tanjung Pinang was one of the first hotels to close shop due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

GEORGE TOWN: Tourism players, including hotels, want the government to quickly allow them to reopen for business.

They said they will follow all SOPs to stop the spread of Covid-19, like social distancing, providing sanitisers and recording visitors, if allowed to resume business.

If this was not done quickly, they warned they would have to close shop for good.

They were reacting to the RM1 billion financing scheme to be made available for tourism players under the RM35 billion Penjana stimulus package announced by the prime minister today.

Association of Tourism Attractions, Penang president Ch’ng Huck Theng.

Association of Tourism Attractions Penang (ATAP) president Ch’ng Huck Theng said while loans and other relief were welcome, the government must allow attractions to open to generate revenue.

He said when wet markets and supermarkets are allowed to operate, zoological gardens, museums and art galleries should also be allowed to open. ATAP has 60 registered attractions.

Ch’ng, who is also Penang Arts Society president, said in reality, these attractions are better at crowd control, implementing social distancing guidelines and hygiene standards compared to other sectors.

“While we are happy and glad the government is trying to help us, remaining closed is not going to do us any good.

“How are we going to make money by remaining shut? And by taking up another loan (from today’s stimulus), how are we going to repay it?

“With every passing day, we are losing money and loans are stacking up. Without revenue, we rather not take more loans but just close shop.

“Never mind the stimulus, just give us a date on which we can reopen. We will abide by the new normal.”

‘Too much emphasis on handouts’

Sim Choo Kheng of the Escape Theme Park also concurred with other players in wanting to reopen, or else risk seeing the demise of the tourism industry.

He said there had been a lot of focus on reopening the manufacturing industry, but very little on the tourism industry, which also enriched the country’s coffers.

“It is more important to reopen the tourism sector rather than place more emphasis on handouts. The economic impact of the lockdown on the tourism industry is far worse than the impact of Covid-19 itself.

“No matter how big the aid package, they have to reopen fast or else you’d only hasten the death of businesses involved in the tourism industry.”

‘Make them low-interest loans’

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang hoped the RM1 billion facility would be made available at a very low interest rate for it to benefit those involved in the sector.

He welcomed the waiver for tourism and service taxes until June 30 next year. He said this would boost travel demand.

“The income tax relief of RM1,000 for tourism-related expenses is also good but should include spouses and children.

“It would be better if the tax relief is given for hotel stays, tours and transfers booked through licensed travel agents.”

Tan said the wage subsidy programme, where the government chips in RM600 for salaries of workers, ought to be spread out to the year’s end, instead of just another three months.

“This is because the tourism industry is only expected to recover by the end of the year.”

He also said the earlier announced special relief fund (SRF) for tourism players had not been received. Many players had their loans approved at a 3.5% interest rate but never received the funds in the end.

Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) CEO Yap Lip Seng said the hotel industry appreciated the new initiatives and extension of the wage subsidy programme of RM600 for another three months. He, however, said the subsidy was “insufficient” for the industry to stay afloat.

“The hotel industry has long proposed a 50% wage subsidy for employees with a monthly pay of RM4,000 or below and 30% subsidy for those earning between RM4,000 and RM8,000,” he said in a statement.

Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chapter chairman Khoo Boo Lim.

MAH board member and Penang chapter chairman Khoo Boo Lim said the RM1 billion financing package was welcome but should be made available easily, without much red tape.

He said more details on how to qualify for the billion ringgit facility should be made available quickly and all frequently-asked questions answered. Bank Negara Malaysia is to announce details only next month.

Khoo said with tourism attractions remaining closed, the hotels would not be able to stay open. He said this does not augur well for efforts to boost domestic tourism among locals.

“Also, without interstate travel, how are we to boost domestic tourism? Cancellation of tourism taxes is welcome but with no foreign tourists coming in, what is the point?”

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts that international tourism will drop by 60% to 80% this year.

While there is no official data for Malaysia, many hotels have been forced to lay off workers or cease operations. Some hotels have been put up for sale.

MAH had said up to 30% of the hotels in the country might have to shut down due to Covid-19 lockdown. Another report by the same group said the tourism business will drop another 60% this year.

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