By OYO’s Vice President (VP) and Head of Malaysia and Singapore, Tan Ming Luk
As the Covid-19 vaccination programme gets underway and the country slowly makes progress in bringing the case numbers down from the peak of the third wave, it is most timely for all segments of society to contribute towards achieving the Ministry of Health’s forecast for new cases to drop to double digits by the end of May 2021.
For OYO, we believe in contributing our strengths, namely safe, clean, and affordable accommodation spread across a network of more than 20,000 hotels in 75 cities and towns throughout Malaysia. In tandem with the Federal as well as State Governments’ plans to roll out Covid-19 quarantine centres across the nation, we are offering OYO hotels as accommodation for all frontliners at these centres. With our expansive network, we are confident that regardless of where these centres are located, there will be an OYO property close by – ideal for cutting down commuting time and distance for the weary frontliners and ensuring that they have clean living spaces for rest and recuperation within easy reach after a long day’s work.
Indeed, we are delighted at the response from OYO property owners, with more than 70 percent of properties expressing interest to host frontliners working at quarantine centres and those administering vaccines later on, once the mass public vaccination programme kicks off. Our existing Sanitized Stays programme and experience serving as Covid-19 isolation centres stands us in good stead to serve as accommodation for frontliners.
Suppressing workplace clusters
In the battle to control Covid-19, it is not just frontliners, of course, who need affordable accommodation that comply with strict cleanliness and sanitisation protocols, where the staff are trained in safety and health protocols when serving guests. For those who keep track of Covid-19 clusters, we know that workplace clusters, especially among those living in worker housing, is a major concern. Here, affordable hotels like those in OYO’s network are well-positioned to complement existing worker housing to ensure sufficient physical distancing.
To date, we have had the opportunity to work with MNCs such as Panasonic and Cadbury, using OYO hotels as self-isolation centres for their employees. It was a proactive move by the companies to ensure minimal or no disruption to their operations in areas recording high numbers of cases, and we welcome more companies to work with us in ensuring the safety of their workers while keeping their business running smoothly.
Revisiting travel bubbles
Zooming in to the travel and hospitality sector, the recently released numbers from Tourism Malaysia show just how badly hit Malaysia has been from the loss of international tourism, with a 83.4 percent decline in international arrivals in 2020 compared to 2019, while tourist receipts plunged by 85.3 percent in the same time period. While every country has to balance the economic need to welcome international travellers with the public health need to avoid importing new cases and strains, there is nevertheless room to take a cautious, gradual approach through the implementation of air bridges and travel bubbles for selected locations in the country, rather than opening up the entire country at once.
There is no time to waste in coming up with ways to reopen tourism safely and gradually, with industry figures anticipating a slow recovery in late 2022 or in 2023 after we hit vaccination targets. Amidst the projected fierce competition from ASEAN neighbours, the rollout of special insurances, healthcare deposits and movement tracking guidelines for international travellers will undoubtedly help in strengthening tourism recovery efforts.
We propose Langkawi as a good starting point. This tourism-dependent island can adopt a hyper-localised strategy that does not require much investment. With entry points limited, we could restrict entry to smaller groups of guests who have proof of vaccination and pass a Covid-19 test prior to entering the island. After landing, tourists would go directly to their resorts and remain there for their entire trip, and activities would be limited to simpler itineraries, where excursions would only be open to registered guests taking boat trips for snorkelling, diving, and fishing.
Beyond resort-style tourism, we also want the rest of Langkawi’s hotels, from budget to luxury, and all other businesses to benefit from this programme, so protecting the residents of Langkawi with vaccination is also crucial. With a total population of approximately only 111,500, all eligible residents can be vaccinated in as little as a month. Such a start would also help local airlines and airport operators gradually recover from the estimated 75.7 percent drop in Malaysian air passenger traffic in 2020.
Certainly, we were heartened to hear the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dato’ Sri Nancy Shukri recently announcing plans to introduce a travel bubble between Langkawi and Indonesia; work with airline partners to promote Malaysian destinations and discuss the possibility of a travel bubble with China. The announcement by the minister that the government is considering issuing a Covid-19 vaccine passport for those who have been vaccinated to ease travel restrictions and revive the aviation sector within the region is surely also welcome.
When all is said and done, the hospitality and travel industry has always stepped up to help our communities in times of need, including throughout this pandemic, and we are committed to continue doing so. We look forward to rolling out more plans in public-private collaborations to support the next phase of recovery as the nation works together to triumph over this adversity.