KUALA LUMPUR, 20 January 2021 – The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) is reiterating earlier calls for the government to come up with an enhanced rescue plan for travel agents in the wake of the latest Movement Control Order (MCO) and the bleak forecast for 2021.
The plea made by the country’s largest travel association was widely reported by local news channels in Malaysia this week.
MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said, “Tourism businesses are currently in extreme distress due to the very fragile and uncertain business environment which is expected to continue late into 2021. Tour and travel agents have been battling with collapsing revenue and liquidity problems since the start of the pandemic and the government’s efforts have not made any significant impact on this segment of the industry.”
Travel agents remain essential players to support the growth of tourism and Malaysia’s economy according to Tan, who said the majority of the businesses contribute significantly to inbound travel. Many of the companies operate buses and other tourist vehicles vital to the tourism infrastructure of the country.
“Tourism has also played an important part in the national GDP, and it is the third-largest contributor in the previous years. The industry supplied 14.1% (MYR166bil) in 2015, 14.5% (MYR182bil) in 2016, 14.6% (MYR201bil) in 2017, 15.2% (MYR220bil) in 2018 and 15.9% (MYR240bil) in 2019 to the country’s GDP. For 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had vastly affected the tourism industry with an estimated total loss exceeding RM100 billion,” he explained.
Travel agents are not alone in calling for assistance. Hotels are facing closure during the second phase of MCO that shut down all but essential travel.
The travel agency association’s president is lobbying for an extension on the loan moratorium and enhanced wage subsidy programmes until 30 June 2021.
It would also include financial reliefs on rental, insurance and statutory licensing fees to help those who are affected especially “SMEs who have already had to burn a lot of cash just to survive the last MCO.”
MATTA estimates that more than 5,000 travel companies are now in the ‘ICU’ condition, and the government needs to initiate rehabilitation programmes as the situation will get worse.
Tan said: “Allowing travel agents to close business premises and operate from home and the cancellation of the mandatory Travel & Tours Enhancement Course (TTEC) programmes for travel companies are good gestures of support.”
MATTA has urged employees of travel agencies to go for re-skilling during this challenging time. However, the association was disappointed that the government did not allocate funds for re-skilling tourism workers at large apart from the 8,000 aviation workers as announced in Budget 2021.
“It is also imperative for the government to resolve the issues on deposits held by airlines and related service providers, make urgent corrections to the (outdated) Tourism Industry Act 1992. It would provide the flexibility of approval for conversion of tour buses into other categories to allow these buses to be utilized for other purposes – these are practical measures that the government needs to assist.”
He warned that the tourism sector had been burdened by bureaucracy and over-governance. Overlapping jurisdictions by multiple government agencies have stifled the industry over many years.
“It is no longer ‘business as usual’ under the COVID-19 pandemic and we urge the various government agencies to make immediate policy changes to ease the financial burden of the hardest-hit industry in Malaysia,” concluded Tan concluded.