Masidi, Joniston the industry picks for Sabah tourism minister

Masidi Manjun (left) and Joniston Bangkuai (right) are two people well-versed in the tourism industry, says Alexander Yee.

KOTA KINABALU: Leaders in Sabah’s tourism industry have weighed in on their preferred Cabinet appointee and recommended action necessary to revive the sector set to take another hit as the targeted enhanced movement control order (TEMCO) comes into effect.

Lahad Datu, Tawau, Kunak and Semporna are under lockdown until Oct 12, just as tourism operators are beginning to recover from previous travel restrictions.

Under TEMCO, movement in and out of the affected areas are barred to contain the spread of the virus.

Alexander Yee, president of the Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association, told FMT the new state government’s Cabinet appointment will play a major role in how the rest of the year plays out for Sabah’s tourism operators.

“We don’t know if the person appointed is somebody unfamiliar with the industry.

“We have two people who are quite well versed in the tourism industry. There’s Masidi Manjun, he was a previous tourism minister, and Joniston Bangkuai, who was the chairman of the Sabah Tourism Board,” he said.

Yee said the “learning curve” will be too steep for a minister without tourism experience, which would extend existing problems into 2021 as the individual tries to get acquainted with the industry on the fly.

Sabah Tourist Association chairman Tony Chew said operators have been relying heavily on wage subsidy programmes and hopes the assistance will continue.

“Their income has dropped 80% to 90% and because of this, they can’t sustain the workers they have, and they’ve been forced to cut their workforce to survive.

“The wage subsidies have been the most important, because salaries are one of the dominant costs for a lot of tourism companies.”

Chew also hoped that schemes similar to the second round of Prihatin, which allotted special loans for the tourism sector, will be introduced as it offered a much needed lifeline to companies struggling to get banks to give them money as they were deemed high-risk borrowers.

“Assistance from the government is important to help the tour operators. This industry is one of the worst affected by the pandemic and we anticipate it could be one of the last to recover,” he said.

Yee painted a bleak picture of the future if the state government does not make the needed adjustments.

“Things won’t be normal on the 13th (when the TEMCO is currently slated to be lifted). People will wait and see and only then will they start to book ahead if it seems safe, so that could push business back another month after that,” he said.

He said every delay in the state government’s decision-making pushes tourism operators further into danger.

“2020 is a year of survival. You are not looking at making money, you are not looking at making more than last year, you are just trying to stay afloat,” he said.