Monday, April 19, 2021

Targeted travel bubbles could herald a return to the golden age of tourism

But these will only work if everyone is responsible about following the SOPs.

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Ever since the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) in March 2020, I have found myself looking through old pictures taken during trips with great appreciation. As I flipped through photos of the local delicacies that I sampled during one of my road trips, it made me wonder when we can do these things again. I am one of the millions of people experiencing a climbing desire for leisure and travelling activities after being idle for a long time.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic will persist for some time, and no one knows the date that will mark its end. The endless control over tourism activities will not bring good to anyone. The pandemic has caused the country’s tourism sector to suffer an estimated loss of RM100 billion in the past year. Tourism service providers within the industry that could not morph to make ends meet have closed their businesses.

On March 10, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the senior minister for security, announced permission for a targeted tourism bubble. Tourists from states under recovery MCO (RMCO) will be allowed to travel to other RMCO states in groups. This initiative is called a travel bubble.

Now, what is a travel bubble? Travel bubble is a term used to illustrate the partnership between two or more destinations known as travel bridges or corona corridors. This partnership allows people to travel freely within specified zones. Despite the explanation, the term still sounds bizarre. It is nothing more than the traditionally packaged tour that we used to have before the pandemic. The main exception is that travellers and tourism service providers need to observe a specific set of rules. Tour operators need to pre-arrange transportation, lodging facilities, and tourist spots to ensure a smooth travelling schedule. Additionally, all parties should observe the safety rules within the prefixed zone of no travel restrictions or the so-called bubble.

Undeniably, before the environment stabilises, unplanned activities may create further threats to the public. Therefore, the travel bubble initiative is a resourceful solution, just in time to cruise out the doldrums within the tourism industry while helping combat the virus. It is also a livelihood for recreation among Malaysians.

Many have questioned the domestic travel bubble initiative. Here, I would like to share some benefits that we could draw from it.

Travel bubbles could encourage economic growth within the country. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) regarding the travel and tourism sector, domestic tourist spending in Malaysia accounted for a significant portion – 49% – in 2019. As international travel remains uncertain, efforts to encourage domestic tourism via the initiative may help restore some cash flow for businesses. It is also an avenue to warm up the industry players in the hope of welcoming the golden age of tourism again. In short, this is a way en route to the recovery phase for the tourism industry, spanning all segments from accommodation, transportation, and tour operators to all types of hospitality service providers.

It is human nature to love freedom and to view new things out of curiosity. The pandemic has stirred significant fear among the public of its potential physical impact. This prolonged fear has indirectly impacted people’s mental health too. Besides facing financial and employment uncertainties, we get anxious about adjusting to the sudden changes in our lifestyle. As a result, we easily fall into the depression trap that has a crippling effect on our mental health.

With the recent permission for domestic travel via travel bubbles, the sense of normality is re-established, which will indirectly promote a healthier state of mind.

Having said this, we can only enjoy the benefits of travel bubbles if everyone takes full responsibility and follows the SOPs outlined by the tourism, arts and culture ministry while enjoying our “Cuti-Cuti Malaysia”. Soon, we will be busy searching for our passports that have remained untouched for some time.

Leong Quee-Ling is an assistant professor at UCSI University’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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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