PETALING JAYA: Tourism associations have voiced hope that Putrajaya will reach an agreement with neighbouring Singapore and Brunei allowing unrestricted travel between the countries in order to boost local tourism as restrictions ease in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang said domestic tourism alone was not enough to sustain the industry, and that opening the border with Singapore could help boost business.
“Singapore is the top market for arrivals to Malaysia. We can start with business travel and move into leisure travel,” he told FMT, pointing out that some 10.16 million Singaporeans had entered the country last year.
He suggested a joint tourism campaign by the two countries, adding that a “travel bubble” could help boost travel and draw tourists as both nations were interdependent.
According to data from Tourism Malaysia, Singaporean tourists ranked the highest in terms of tourist expenditure, beating even China with an estimated RM11.56 billion spent between January and June 2019.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route was the busiest international route in the world with 30,187 flights in 2018, while the bridge between the two nations is known to be the busiest causeway in the world.
Johor Tourism Association chairman Jimmy Leong said reopening Malaysia’s border with Singapore would benefit both countries, agreeing with Tan that the two nations needed each other.
He told FMT that the higher socioeconomic level of Singaporeans could do much to support local businesses during the economic downturn, with value-for-money goods available for tourists in Malaysia.
“Traditionally, unlike other borders in Malaysia, the border here permits the movement of commuters in big numbers from both ends, thus many businesses and industries are dependent on them.
“The opening of the border can be considered a foreign ‘domestic’ catalyst to restart the economy in Johor.”
He said the close proximity of other states such as Melaka would bring added benefit to them as well, as these were well within a day’s travel from Singapore.
While maintaining that any reopening must be done without compromising health and safety, he said the border’s closure had cast doubt for many in the tourism industry on how long they could survive.
Putrajaya is in discussions with green-zone countries, particularly Singapore and Brunei, on allowing citizens to cross borders without being screened or undergoing mandatory quarantine.
Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Putrajaya was willing to loosen restrictions for the entry of citizens from both countries into Malaysia, but that these rules must also apply to Malaysian visitors there.
Chairman of Matta’s Sabah chapter Lawrence Chin said Brunei was the fifth-highest contributor to tourism earnings for the state with more than 78,000 visitors last year.
In Sarawak, meanwhile, the tourism ministry recorded 1.29 million visitors from Brunei in 2019, making up more than half of the two million foreign visitors in the state last year.
Chin told FMT that their “favourable” currency exchange rate allowed them to spend millions on vacationing, shopping and dining in Sabah.
“We would definitely welcome our neighbour to open its border to visit Malaysia,” he said, pointing out practices put in place by the Sabah government.
“We hope Brunei will open up its border to Sabah as soon as possible because of Sabah’s low risk of Covid-19 infection.”
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