Malaysian tourism facing collapse after 18-month pandemic shutdown

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Malaysia’s once-booming tourism sector faces “total” collapse without state support, according to the head of one of the country’s main industry groups.

Related businesses “are in bad shape,” according to Tan Kok Liamg, President of the Malaysian Association of Tourism and Travel Agents (MATTA), because of “regulatory constraints imposed by the government.”

Before the pandemic, Malaysia’s annual visitor numbers were often the second highest in South-east Asia after Thailand, with tourism typically making up between 5 and 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

“As borders have remained closed for the last 18 months and with just a small travel bubble for Langkawi, we plead with Tengku Zafrul to provide targeted assistance,” Tan said, referring to the finance minister.

Malaysia last week reopened Langkawi, a set of holiday islands, to vaccinated or immune domestic tourists

But the government has kept the country’s border closed to almost all visitors since March 2020 and has said recruitment of foreign workers would not resume until next year, despite linchpin factories and plantations complaining of staff shortages.

With almost 80 per cent of adults listed as fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the government has rolled back some curbs imposed in May as part of a third national lockdown, including lifting limits on domestic travel.

The “total lockdown” failed to prevent a five-fold increase in daily coronavirus case numbers and surge in daily deaths from single to triple figures.

The crisis saw GDP contract in the second quarter and Muhyiddin Yassin replaced as prime minister last month by former defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

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