No light at the end of the tunnel for Sarawak’s tourism industry

Sarawak tourism has been badly hit. – TMI photo

ONE year after Sarawak first detected its first Covid-19 patient, the state’s tourism industry has been battered by travel restrictions, with up to 30 per cent of budget hotel operators shuttering their businesses.

The Sarawak chapter of Malaysia Budget Hotel Association president Stephen Wong said of those operating, their occupancy rate was only between 10 and 20 per cent.

“We do not see the light at the end of the tunnel yet,” he said, in a The Malaysian Insight report.

Wong said while budget hotel operators in the state had tried every business trick they know to hang on until the borders are reopened, but the prolonged uncertainty on when tourists will return has taken a toll on the businesses.

“Running in a deficit for one year, that’s too long for some of them,” he said.

Wong said although he has no exact figures how many operators have closed down “temporarily” or “permanently”, his rough estimate is that some 20% to 30% had ceased operations.

With the budget hotels registering an occupancy rate in the low 10% to 20%, Wong said it’s therefore hard for some of the operators to keep going even though there are many state and federal assistance offered to ensure their survival.

The assistance he was referring to include electricity rebates from both the state and federal governments, water tariff rebates, loan schemes and the Social Security Organisation’s employment retention programme (ERP).

“We welcome all the assistance we can get,” Wong, who manages the Regatta Suites at the Kozi shopping mall in Kuching, said.

“We are grateful for them. But they are still not enough.

“We’re not blaming the government for what they’re doing. We understand but we don’t know how long this (situation) will go on. We can’t remain in business when no one is coming,” he said.

Wong said his Regatta Suites had even taken steps to trim its 100-employee workforce by retrenching junior employees that fall under the LIFO (last in, first out) rule.

He said while it saddened him to let them go, business realities have to take precedence.

“(We’re all) looking at retrenchment or maybe a temporary layoff. If we don’t do it, the whole boat will sink.”

The Regatta Suites, a walking distance to the Sarawak General Hospital, is popular with people from outstation who come to Kuching to visit loved ones warded in the hospital or who are in the state’s capital seeking specialised treatment.

Wong said even a lift in inter-zone travel ban would be God-sent to the hospitality segment of the battered industry.

He said if the vaccination numbers had reached the point where it is safe to travel, the first thing authorities should do is lift the travel ban in the state.

“Opening our borders to outsiders, even from elsewhere in Malaysia, they can come later.”

The Sarawak Tourism Federation, in a survey done in June last year, found 62% of hotels were operating at full capacity, 33% at half while the remaining 5% had closed.

Some 80% of the hotels, not including government-linked ones, had managed to retain all their staff but on reduced pay or taking up the government’s wage subsidy assistance.

The survey also found 74% of the hotels needed more than six months for their business to reach the pre-Covid levels of sales and growth.

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