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04/10/2021
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October surprise? Keep waiting

By Lee San

Domestic travel

Hurray! It’s October again! The pleasant surprise is: the 14 vacation islands in the country are beginning to throw their arms open to welcome visitors, with legendary Langkawi having the head start. However, public response has been mixed because almost all the 10,000 visitors to Langkawi have stayed and spent their time in four- and five-star resorts in the so-called 100% free-and-easy holiday! Apparently only a handful of businesses such as airlines, car rental companies and luxurious hotels benefit from the latest holiday rush. Local residents and the surrounding environment are set to lose.

The biggest losers are none other than travel agencies and tour guides because almost all the travelers have booked their holiday packages online, fast and convenient. Looks like we can only blame the government for not introducing something like Taiwan’s travel vouchers, which will invariably stimulate local consumption.

That said, I still support the government’s decision to gradually open up interstate travel within the country. But the thing is: undesirable consequences might ensue, including flawed SOPs and laxed enforcement and compliance, not to mention absence of an effective enforcement supervisory mechanism. Looks like some people may just have to “dance with the virus” soon!

So, I would propose that you join our small, all-in groups. A professional travel agency can offer just the same level of flexibility plus the assurance that you will enjoy your vacation in a safe and care-free environment.

Proboscis-monkey in Sandakan.

Oversea travel

I have had the feeling that more pleasant surprises will be on the way in the month of October. Some travel buddies have already rushed to congratulate me in advance: We all have seen our good and bad times. You must be the most excited man in this world right now!

You are absolutely right! I have searched high and low for my international passport to make sure it still has more than one year of validity. I will make a date with you to head straight to KLIA the moment the green light is signaled!

Now that Thailand has announced to reopen its borders in November, Asean member states are expected to start their travel bubble programs soon among one another. I guess Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam will be the next to dive in, just waiting for Malaysia to jump into the bandwagon.

As a matter of fact, there is already free passage within Europe, among South American countries and a couple of Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, the UK has issued entry criteria for Asian travelers meeting specific requirements. Currently Singapore, Germany and Brunei have already sealed a deal on mutual group visits, while countries like Nepal, Maldives, Dubai and Polynesia have fully opened up to tour groups from around the world. More are expected to follow.

I have just talked to some of the travel promotion bodies in KL and we all agree that travel bubble programs will be kicked off once vaccination rates have reached a certain threshold in the countries involved. From what I understand, it is being planned between South Korea and Australia, while Japan may start with business travel visas in November before setting a timetable for regular tour groups.

Meanwhile, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and New Zealand have said they will not reopen their borders to ordinary tourists so soon, but this could change depending on the situation.

Actually, every country has its own plans and will cautiously weigh the pros and cons between gains from the travel bubble program and risks of imported infections.

Feeling excited now? Well, let’s make a date to “fly to somewhere” anytime, OK?

Inbound travel

2020 was originally planned to be Visit Malaysia Year with a lofty ambition of wooing 30 million inbound tourists. Unfortunately we ended the year with a miserable 4.33 million arrivals. 2021 is yet another pathetic year with almost zero tourist arrival. Now that it is said the international travel bubble program is about to be kicked off, why don’t our inbound travel operators seem to feel the excitement at all?

In fact, around 60% to 65% of our annual tourist arrivals have been from countries sharing borders with us such as Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei. People from these countries may cross the border into Malaysia several times a year. In 2019, for instance, Singapore alone contributed 10.16 million arrivals or 39% out of a total of 26.1 million. Some of them arrived in express coaches to Genting and Melaka, while majority of them were on business or savoring bakutteh in JB.

Then what counts as regular inbound tourists? First of all, the ground arrangements have to be B2B and may require large and small tour buses with full guide services. Based On such criteria, perhaps only some of the visitors from Greater China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Middle East, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia are the main sources of income for local inbound agencies. But when will they actually get to come here? Even if these people have plans to travel to Malaysia, it could be in mid-2022 the earliest or even after 2023!

What about the large numbers of tour guides, drivers, thousands of tour coaches, countless souvenir shops and three- and four-star hotels catering mainly to tour groups? Do they have to keep waiting infinitely?

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)

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Lee San
Apple Vacations

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