Government AffairsThe travel sector finds scant relief in the latest stimulus package announced amid the current lockdown.

New aid for Malaysia but is it enough?

While certain provisions were gratefully welcomed, the travel industry is asking the Malaysian government for further help.
While certain provisions were gratefully welcomed, the travel industry is asking the Malaysian government for further help. Photo Credit: Getty Images/efired

Malaysia may have pumped out another stimulus package for the country's beleaguered economic sectors, but the latest aid is offering little relief for the travel industry.

Under the Pemerkasa Plus stimulus package announced on 31 May, which coincided with the latest nation-wide lockdown from 1 June, the Malaysian government is extending the hire-purchase moratorium for eligible buses of up to 12 months, and for their loans of up to 36 months.

For now, a one-off RM500 special assistance — costing the government RM68 million — for a group comprising 17,000 tour guides and 4,000 tour bus drivers will be paid off in July.

The extension is welcomed by the Malaysian Association of Travel and Tour Agents (MATTA), which has been advocating such a move to the government since the onset of the pandemic.

Based on a survey of 3,000 MATTA member companies, results found some 9,000 affected vehicles tour buses.

As well, hotel operators, tour agencies, convention centres, theme parks and airlines have been given a 10% discount on electricity bills from July to September. Exemptions for tourism tax and service tax for hotel stays have also been extended to 31 December 2021.

Still, members of the travel industry also feel the latest aid is too little and does not cover other costs.

"Travel companies still need to pay for renewal of their licenses despite having no business because of lockdowns — and this has been [the way] for 18 months and probably for another six months at least," said Hamzah Rahmat, director at Discova Malaysia and former MATTA president.

"They shouldn’t be charging us. We still need to pay for our utility bills, electricity, water and phone and office rentals."

To that end, MATTA is calling for the government to "approve further assistance to travel agencies with a grant of RM10,000 each to help them cover fixed costs and overhead costs," said Tan.

While travel agencies have turned to alternative businesses to generate revenue, the association president says such pivots do little to improve the situation for companies and 47,000 direct employees in the sector.

Another one-month extension was also given to the wage subsidy programme, even though the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) eyes longer-term initiatives in this area.

President Datuk Subramaniam said that while MAH understands the government has limited resources, vaccination for the hotel industry is paramount.

To that end, MATTA is making the same call, asking for workers in the tourism sector to be fast tracked for vaccination, just as other countries have done.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI