China suspending tour groups will hit Malaysia hard, says Matta president

Adib Povera, Goh Pei Pei

KUALA LUMPUR: THE deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak that has spread across China and abroad will affect Malaysia’s tourism industry with expected losses running into millions of ringgit.

This followed reports that the Chinese government had temporarily suspended inbound and outbound group tours in the wake of the outbreak, which had claimed the lives of 56 of its citizens, with more than 2,000 people infected in several parts of the world.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta)
president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said tourism agencies and tour companies in Malaysia had been notified by their counterparts in China about the temporary suspension effective tomorrow.

“The Wuhan coronavirus will affect the national tourism industry. Matta hopes that the situation is contained and that it will last only for a short period.

“Otherwise, the repercussion will be severe as it will affect the tourism industry not only in Malaysia, but also globally.

“As of now, inbound and outbound tourism between Malaysia and China is crippled due to quarantine policies imposed by China. Malaysian holidaymakers are also cautioned from travelling to China,” he said.

From January to September last year, China was the third biggest source of foreign tourists (2.41 million arrivals), after Singapore (7.8 million) and Indonesia (2.7 million).

Bloomberg reported that China had ordered travel agencies to suspend sales of domestic and international tours to contain the spread of 2019-nCoV, which was first detected in Wuhan last month.

China’s Culture and Tourism Ministry had ordered travel agencies and tourism companies to stop selling tour packages beginning Friday, according to a document seen by the international news agency.

The action came about at the start of the Lunar New Year holidays, when millions of Chinese travel across the country and abroad.

The New Straits Times learnt about the notice issued by China’s General Office of the Culture and Tourism Ministry over the cancellation of local and overseas tours beginning tomorrow.

According to the notice, all tour agents and online tour service providers had been advised to cease operations of all tour products, which include flight tickets and hotel packages.

The notice said it applied to local and overseas tours.

When asked if tourism and travel companies here had started to feel the impact of the
virus outbreak, which had affected Malaysia with four confirmed cases involving Chinese nationals, Tan replied: “Obviously.

“I do not think it is proper for Matta to make estimates, but it is expected that the cancellation (of the inbound and outbound tours by China) could cause losses in the millions in tourism receipts,” Tan said.

He called on operators of hotels, tours and airlines, as well as other service providers, to be flexible in their cancellation policies.

Some hotel operators in Johor have received cancellations from Chinese tourist companies following the suspension.

The Johor chapter of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), which has 108 members, confirmed this.

Johor MAH chairman Ivan Teo, in a statement to the NST, however, said hotels in Johor were prepared to manage the impending risk of the coronavirus outbreak based on their experience during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, outbreak that affected the country in 2003.

“Staff members at the hotels in Johor are familiar with quarantine and communication procedures. In addition to the standard operating procedures, masks and hand sanitisers will also be provided.

“Hotels are taking extra measures, such as implementing free cancellations, checking all guest arrivals and helping guests with the tour and travel itinerary rearrangements if required.

“Hotels are also working with the Singapore consulate-general on cross-border issues.”

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