Domestic travel bubbles in Malaysia came into effect 10 March, bringing some relief to the travel industry that has already been heavily bruised by repeated lockdowns.
These bubbles, however, are only applicable for travel between states under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), announced senior minister of security, Ismail Sabri Yaakob on 9 March. They are Melaka, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Sabah, Labuan, Putrajaya, and the islands of Langkawi.
“The permitted conditions are that such travel must utilise the services offered by tour agencies registered with the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (MOTAC). Travel between states must only use tour vehicles registered with MOTAC as well. The use of private vehicles is not allowed,” he said after a media briefing following a meeting of the National Security Council.
Under this bubble policy, states currently under the Control Movement Control Order (CMCO) are still not allowed to travel, while travellers from states under RMCO are expected to drive straight through these areas on their trip itineraries. Ismail gave the example of a tour to Melaka starting from Putrajaya, which requires a pass through Negeri Sembilan (under the CMCO).
He also noted that tour agents are required to get police approval before undertaking the tour, so that officials may monitor the group in case of unforeseen circumstances. Hotels allowed to receive interstate tourists are those also registered with MOTAC.
Earlier on 2 March, it was also announced that from 5 March, activities for public and tourist attractions such as zoos, cultural heritage sites, museums, farms, aquariums, edutainment centres, theme and recreational parks and nature and extreme parks would be allowed to operate. CMCO states are allowed to operate at normal hours, but at 50% of its capacity.
Tan Kok Liang, president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), said that the latest interstate travel protocols are a step forward towards revitalising domestic travel although it is too early to gauge if they would have any significant effect on driving domestic travel.
“We must also understand that many of the main markets for domestic travel comes from and are located in many of the areas still under CMCO such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang, and many of the operators and tourism vehicles are within those states," he commented.
"It would also take some time for us to market and reach out to the public with new tours to cater to these restrictions in place and for the public to take up the tours."
Stressing that travel operators would give their full cooperation to adhere to the protocols, Tan also expressed hopes for the government to eventually impose restrictions on localised hotspots than on a state-level and also reduce the administrative hassle of seeking police approvals.
The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) has expressed its appreciation towards MOTAC’s efforts in pushing for the relaxation of travel, and president N Subramaniam is hopeful that the ministry will further loosen restrictions with a decline in the number of Covid-19 cases.
“It is a significant indication that the government had in fact taken industry’s views ahead of scheduled restrictions till 18 March, closer towards full reopening of interstate travel. We also propose for the government to allow travel between RMCO states via flight with confirmed hotel bookings as hotels are fully ready with all the required SOPs, under MAH’s ‘Clean & Safe’ certification which is supported by MOTAC,” he said.