Malaysia must take steps in preparing to welcome foreign travellers or risk losing out to other countries.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) president Uzaidi Udanis suggested that Malaysia look at other countries' best practices, which had successfully turned the tide despite the pandemic, such as Maldives that received one million foreign visitors last year and had 34 airlines operating with direct flights into the island.
"It's about time Malaysia reopens its borders. Malaysia has to take measures soon so that we will not be left behind, as neighbouring countries including Thailand have already made their move to welcome foreign tourists.
"We could relax the restrictions, but cautiously, to keep the virus at bay by imposing conditions on travellers including ensuring that they are fully vaccinated before entering the country."
Uzaidi expressed concerns over further delay as companies had started repaying their loans after the moratorium period ended, but those in the tourism industry were especially struggling to recover the losses incurred due to the pandemic.
He said they were currently depending heavily on the domestic market to survive, but were unable to optimise it, citing online hotel bookings via global websites and unexplored tourism potentials.
He said easing of Covid-19 restrictions had seen people celebrating the Chinese New Year in the new normal after not being able to do so during the early days of the pandemic, warming up to the idea of living with the virus.
This, he said, was supported with the fact that Malaysia had among the highest vaccination rates in the world, as part of its measures to protect the community from infections.
He said the government's earlier initiatives, namely, the Langkawi international tourism travel bubble pilot project and the Singapore-Malaysia Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) were well received, and as such, consideration should be given to reopen the international borders altogether.
He said the government should also review the strict conditions imposed on foreign travellers should it decide to reopen the borders.
"For example, I have a client from the United Kingdom who said he had to take Covid-19 tests daily while he was on an eight-day trip to Langkawi. The government should review this as it would also jeopardise the industry in the long-run as potential customers will be put off because of the extreme measures."
Meanwhile, former Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan suggested reopening of borders in stages to travellers from countries who were not in the high-risk category.
"They still must show proof having had both their vaccinations and booster (as all Malaysians are required to do so) and have proof of negative results before travel. Or, they could be given the option of a shorter quarantine period for a couple of days with terms and conditions.
"While prioritising public health, we must also look at the economic sustainability and steer the country back to some semblance of normalcy," he said.
He said the last fortnight had seen the number of daily confirmed Covid-19 cases easing to around 2,000 to 3,000 per day.
Almost 99 per cent of the daily new cases were in Categories One and Two, which showed no or mild symptoms, proof that Malaysia was on the right track with the vaccinations and boosters, he said.
"Every industry is important. Most of the variants have been imported from overseas. Thus, foreign visitors, especially from high-risk countries should be carefully monitored with strict adherence of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), vaccinations and boosters, as well as tests.
"We are doing fairly well (in containing the virus). So, reopening the borders and easing some restrictions gradually in accordance with the situation and circumstances should be the plan for the future. We cannot simply lift all restrictions that will spell a disaster.
As neighbouring countries Thailand and the Philippines are set to welcome foreign tourists from this month, Malaysia has yet to make any significant announcement on the reopening of its borders.
Malaysia estimated RM165 billion losses in tourist expenditure for the year 2021 as the country's tourism activities came to a screeching halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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