With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 affecting most countries in the world, international travel has ground to a halt. The tourism and hospitality sector has experienced the most impact. In Malaysia, the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 has been cancelled, while in Sarawak, many big events and festivals, including the iconic Rainforest World Music Festival 2020 has been put on hold, affecting the Visit Sarawak Campaign (VSC) 2020.
Whilst fighting the immediate impact, it’s also time to think about the future and recovery planning. Sarawak has taken this time to look at plans and measures to prepare for the ‘new normal’ once things start to normalise.
Sarawak was using the time in the Motion Control Order (MCO) to strategise business plans for state tourism. Together with its tourism board, Sarawak is trying to impose ‘Responsible Travel’ experience in Sarawak, in addition to being innovative in marketing the product after the MCO is lifted. according to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak (MTAC), responsible travel is key for Sarawak tourism to stay afloat in this current time.
Innovation must continue as Sarawak is starting its ‘Responsible Travel’ campaign by incorporating well-rounded hygiene practices in every hospitality and tourism aspects, such as temperature check, hygiene protocols once enter the establishment and pre-packaged cutleries and amenities during the stay. Adequate health facilities and personnel play a big role to support responsible travel as well.
The first principle for the safe and gradual restoration of tourism activities is to make sure that the spread of COVID-19 in the area has significantly decreased and stabilised. Even so, tourism will be slower to pick up its momentum after the lockdown protocol is lifted, compared to other industries.
Tourism Sector Amidst Lockdown
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the tourism industry will take 24 months to 36 months to reach stabilisation. The lockdowns and restrictions of movement had hit the hospitality and service sector hard, particularly in areas that are engaged in physical interactions such as retail trade, leisure, hospitality, recreation, and transportation services.
Since Sarawak is an island, more than 90% of visitors come using air transportation. With MCO extended, this has directly and indirectly hurt and crippled the travel industry. However, in view of the tourism sector being all-inclusive, where most countries introduced full or partial travel restrictions, this has brought a negative impact to the economy.
For this current situation, Sarawak can’t forecast the visitor arrivals for 2021. This is because the intensity and vulnerability of the COVID-19 pandemic in different destinations are at different levels and adversely affected the international travel and tourism sector. Hence, we are currently forecasting on a quarterly basis until the situation is stable, and the curve has flattened; then, we will set the forecast target for 2021.
Online Presence as the Answer
To revive the sector deeply affected by the pandemic, an online presence might be the answer for the tourism industry. Every sector needs to be innovative and generate new product ideas to develop after the crisis, especially towards online marketing and digital communication platforms, as the cyberspace sphere will be the dominating role in how to reach the market.
Hence, it is the right time to do a product audit to improve the standard and quality of current products and introduce new product offers to tourists such as creative packages and new tourism infrastructure and facilities, together with local arts and crafts. All these products and packages will be made available on e-commerce platforms by leveraging Sarawak Travel App and Portal and hence expanding its purpose.
Safety First as #1 Travel Protocol
Travel will not be bouncing back soon, as most people are concerned about safety and health as our top priority. Responsible tourism has to meet these criteria, including sufficient health capacity personnel to deal with tourists such as testing, surveillance and monitoring, and contact tracing via mobile app.
New 'Responsible Travel' protocols for the travel industry in Malaysia will include check-in involving digital technology, sanitising stations at frequent points including where luggage is stored, contactless payment instead of cash, using stairs/escalators vs lifts with 2 meters rule. For Cruise and other transport operators’ measures, staffs should be wearing gloves and masks at all times. Hotels will be implementing more frequent room cleaning practices. And travellers at airports will be tested before they depart and upon arrival.
"We are urging industry partners to review their online presence. We need to be innovative and generate new product ideas to develop after the crisis especially towards online marketing and digital communication platforms" said Minister Of Tourism, Arts & Culture of Sarawak, YB Datuk Haji Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.From The People of Asia's email interview with YB Datuk Haji Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Minister Of Tourism, Arts & Culture of Sarawak.
Hence, the travel and tourism industry needs to leverage digital platforms to create ripple effect messages and remind travellers that Sarawak is here, waiting to be explored.
People’s behaviour and demand for responsible travel during this recovery period will be more prominent. In addition to that, digital marketing will be the core approach to reach out to both domestic and ASEAN travellers and might become the answer to the new wave of travel.
Based on email interview with YB Datuk Haji Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Minister Of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Sarawak and Sarawak Tourism Board with the help of BzBee Consult Sdn Bhd.