Sunday, August 1, 2021

No rocket science needed to save our hotels

Interstate travel should be allowed under strict conditions for those who can show proof that they have booked and paid for accomodation at licensed hotels in the country.

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Since March 18 last year, various forms of movement control have been imposed in Malaysia starting with the movement control order (MCO), which was later loosened to conditional MCO (CMCO) and further relaxed to recovery MCO (RMCO).

For Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, CMCO was introduced in May and RMCO in June. Due to a spike of infections, CMCO had to be reimposed from Nov 9 but was rendered ineffective after inter-district and interstate travel restrictions were lifted from Dec 7.

It did not take long for infections to hit the roof with a record of 2,525 cases on the last day of 2020. After another 28,251 cases were recorded during the first 12 days of this year, MCO had to be imposed on five states and three federal territories from Jan 13.

From last Jan 25 until Dec 31, Malaysia recorded a total of 113,010 Covid-19 infections. But this January alone, 101,947 were recorded in just one month, an average of 3,289 daily. It dropped to 3,064 daily in February and 1,780 daily in the first eight days of March.

The authorities would not want to make the same fatal mistake of lifting the ban on interstate travel and are equally determined not to have a repeat the shockingly high daily cases recorded on the last three days of January, which were 5,725, 5,728 and 5,298, respectively.

Recently, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said if the current downward trend continues, it is possible that interstate travel will be allowed and people can return to their hometowns and villages to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which falls on May 13 this year.

But for hotels still in operations, most cannot wait any longer and need immediate help. Many hotels, large and small, have ceased operations or closed permanently. Langkawi budget hoteliers are again pleading with the authorities to throw them a lifeline or they will go under.

Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (MyBHA) Langkawi chapter president Noorazly Rosly said hotels are in dire straits and that a rescue plan is urgently needed. Here, I wish to put forward a practical solution which does not require government funding or expenditure.

I propose that interstate travel be allowed for those who can show proof that they have booked and prepaid for accommodation at any licensed hotel in the country, but under the strictest conditions. Their travel must tally with the dates checking in and out of hotels.

To facilitate inspection by enforcement officers, a standard template could be designed and used by all hotels so that relevant information such as passenger names and identity numbers, and mode of transport such as flight or vehicle number, are contained in the same page.

Maximum penalties should be imposed to deter or penalise those collaborating to deceive the authorities, such as by issuing fake receipts or obtaining refunds after cancelling bookings. The MySejahtera app must be used daily at the hotel to confirm the guests’ presence.

Such an arrangement could trigger cash flow into many hotels immediately, which is much needed to pay for staff salaries, suppliers and maintenance. Guests can pay for the first night’s stay in advance to secure reservations, and for the entire duration just before travelling.

The National Security Council (NSC) has been issuing various forms of movement control and determining whether travel restrictions should be imposed or lifted. All this was done across the board. It is time the NSC adopt a more targeted and strategic approach.

As reported in the 2019 Domestic Tourism Survey, visiting relatives and friends were the top main purposes for domestic visitors in making their trips, accounting for 42.3%, whereas only 9% of 332 million trips were for holiday, leisure or relaxation.

About 71% of domestic tourists stayed at unpaid accommodations provided by relatives or friends while the rest stayed at hotels, homestays, vacation homes, apartments, rest houses or chalets.

When interstate travel restrictions were lifted from Dec 7 until Jan 13, an overwhelming number of infections must have occurred at homes where unpaid accommodations were provided for visiting relatives and friends, but least for those staying at paid accommodations.

In any case, travel restrictions should not be switched fully from one mode to another overnight, just as our borders should not be suddenly opened to welcome visitors or allow Malaysians to leave the country. Doing so will keep us in a constant state of flux.

Well-planned actions must be taken step by step to lead to desired outcomes, not try-and-see measures. Allowing interstate travel for those with hotel bookings would be a small but significant step in the right direction, and might well turn out to be a giant leap for our suffering hotels.

For this scheme to succeed, it should be limited to licensed hotels that have been operating in full compliance with the law. If unlicensed operators such as those offering private accommodation through Airbnb are allowed, it would throw a spanner in the works.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels, Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners and MyBHA could easily work out and agree to a foolproof mechanism to ensure only legitimate hotel guests get to travel interstate while restrictions remain in force for others.

Saving our hotels is no rocket science used for space explorations that requires special expertise and prohibitive funding from the government. One of the conditions for CMCO should be allowing those who can travel safely to do so.

The NSC can send domestic tourists planning to stay at licensed hotels, hoteliers on the verge of drowning, hotel suppliers facing a cash flow crunch and thousands of nervous hotel workers over the moon. It must be executed immediately before the window of opportunity closes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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