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Visitors throng Jonker Street in Melaka December 28, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Visitors throng Jonker Street in Melaka December 28, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Hotel operators in Melaka have begun to see positive signs of tourists keen to return to its currently quiet streets.

Homestay owner, Sia Gian Heung, said he has started receiving bookings for his property ever since Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri’s recent announcement that Melaka will join Malaysia’s domestic travel bubble.

“We have been receiving bookings after the announcement was made, and we’re very excited for tourists to return to Melaka.

“Melaka is so quiet now. It’s not the same as before. Hopefully, things can return to normal when the government gives the green light for reopening,” Sia, who owns Backyard Rio, Melaka told Malay Mail when contacted.

Reminiscing about how the town was once packed with local and foreign tourists, Sia said he is hopeful that even those who have stopped their homestay business due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic can gradually start to open again.

“Homestay properties have a better chance at surviving because they offer a local and cultural experience for tourists.

“But, even for us, we have been constantly finding ways to stay afloat. It has not been good for us but we managed to survive,” he added.

On Tuesday, Nancy said Genting Highlands (Pahang), Melaka and Tioman Island (Pahang) will join Malaysia’s domestic travel bubble and may reopen to visitors on October 1.

She also said more locations would be added to the list, which kicked off with Langkawi Island in Kedah earlier this month.

The minister said the three locations she announced will receive their approval once she tables the matter in Parliament.

Ever ready and prepared

Similarly, Malaysia Association of Hotels (Melaka chapter) chairman Khairulnizam Kassim said hotels registered under the association are mostly ready to reopen.

“We have started receiving bookings since the announcement was made and we are all ready to receive guests.

“We are just waiting for standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be announced by the state government, and then we are good to go,” Khairulnizam said when contacted.

He added that hotel staff have also been vaccinated while they prepare to accommodate SOPs such as observing physical distance.

“We are not worried about our hotel guests not abiding by SOPs, but more so when in public space.

“We have strict SOPs for hotel guests, and we really hope that they all follow these SOPs,” he said.

Better now than never

Over in Tioman Island, dive instructor and centre operator Lim Chuan Jet said while they are excited for the island reopening, his centre, Burger Dive Team on Kampong Paya, will not be operating at full capacity.

Lim said one of the things that they will not be able to do is to conduct dive classes due to weather constraints.

“We can only accommodate experienced divers for now, as during these months the waves will be rougher. It’s not suitable for diving students,” said Lim when contacted.

He, however, remains positive as the dive centre has been shut since April this year, due to the rise in Covid-19 infections, which led to a prolonged lockdown.

“This year (excluding October), we were only in operation for one month (April); the rest of the time, we were shut due to the MCO (movement control order).

“Even though we are not able to conduct classes, we are looking forward to divers returning to the island and to our dive centre.

“Although not many divers like to come in these few months, we are looking forward to reopening; otherwise, we have to wait until the monsoon season is over next March,” he said, indicating that the dive centre has plans to extend operation months up to December.

Lim added that the dive centre has also put in place its own SOPs, such as reducing the amount of divers taken for each diving trip to adhere to physical distancing rules.

At the same time, Lim said there are no plans to lower prices at his dive centre for now since they have to fork out more to sanitise equipment more frequently.

More to be included in travel bubble

For Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang, he is hopeful that more destinations can be included in the travel bubble at a quicker pace.

“While we welcome more being included in the travel bubbles, we hope the pace can be accelerated, in particular other destinations nationwide such as Penang, Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) with tentative dates to facilitate promotions and effectiveness.

“Overall, the industry is on the verge of collapse and domestic travel must be intensified as soon as possible with the easing of international borders,” he said when contacted.

Tan added that with the reopening of more destinations, holidaymakers will have more destination choices rather than a ‘mono’ travel bubble, to prevent crowding at a single destination.

He also suggested that a longer duration for preparation be given to the respective holiday destinations — which he said should be at least three weeks.

Currently, this is slated for two weeks, once government approval is given.

The tourism, arts and culture minister had on Monday said that Langkawi Island, which is the pilot project for the country’s domestic travel bubble, has proved to be a success story since it opened on September 16, after recording 9,500 tourist arrivals.

National news agency Bernama reported Nancy as saying on Wednesday that there were no Covid-19 cases recorded among the tourists, as recently stated by Kedah Health director Dr Othman Warijo.

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