Sabah tourism players seek bailout, not keen on workers’ retention scheme

Tourists admiring Mount Kinabalu. About 30,000 in Sabah have been affected by the disruption of the tourism industry. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Tourism operators in Sabah have called for a government bailout as opposed to the workers’ retention scheme to help them get back on track following the three-month Covid-19 lockdown.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang said the wage subsidy and employment retention programme was not effective.

He said the tourism industry’s main issue was cash flow as travel agencies have seen a 90% decline in revenue. He said there was therefore a need for funds to be given directly to tourism players.

With the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) ending on Aug 31, 2020, and restrictions on easing of the borders, the majority of SME firms involved in foreign inbound tourists, transportation, ticketing and outbound tourism had zero revenue for six months, he said.

“As such, it is likely to take at least 12 to 24 months for containment, stabilisation and recovery before people and businesses can return to normalcy,” he said during a consultation session with the state tourism, culture and environment ministry here today.

Present were Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew, Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman Ken Pan Ying On, and the ministry’s permanent secretary Jamili Nais.

Tan also proposed that the state government extend its Covid-19 relief package for the poor to tourism industry workers as well.

“For Sabah, the workforce is more than 30,000 employees. The rising number of retrenchments will not only cause hardship to households but will also have a downward spiral effect on domestic demand and grind the economy to a halt,” he said.

Matta’s Sabah chapter chairman Lawrence Chin, in supporting Tan’s call, said the direct fund injection to all licensed tourism companies would be a “gesture of goodwill”.

Chin said the fund injection could be RM10,000, RM20,000 or RM30,000, depending on the size of the company.

“We have been experiencing practically zero revenue from March. However, we are maintaining our staff with the hope that the travel industry will rebound by 2021.”

Chin said tourism players should also be given a six-month extension on their loan moratorium to help them cope with the challenges post lockdown.

Matta has 570 active travel agencies and tour operators throughout the state.

The tour agents also called on the government to ease travel restrictions on places or countries that have effectively contained Covid-19, such as Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and some parts of China.

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew vowed to relay their recommendations to the state government for further action.

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