The Malaysia-Singapore green lane is expected to kick into force on August 17 to allow selected travel between both countries, but tourism industry players in Johor are reining in expectations on leisure tourism that the bilateral travel bubble will bring.
Already, Tourism Malaysia director-general Datuk Musa bin Yusof stated: “As much as both countries are working on the Reciprocal Green Lane and Periodical Commuting Arrangement, these are only meant to facilitate travel for official, business and work purposes and do not include recreational travel.”
Commenting on the progress made by the Malaysia and Singapore governments to implement the bilateral travel bubble, Care Luxury Hotels & Resorts director representative Ian Gan Teng Fong admits that he is “optimistic but not overly hopeful” that it would bring back leisure travellers.
“Still, it’s a positive signal that both sides are prepared to allow travel to resume in a certain form. If this is successful, then it will instil confidence for other Southeast Asian countries to consider collaborating with Malaysia,” he said.
With the borders between the two countries closed, Liza Alip of East Coast Adventure Travel & Tours says that her travel agency with a niche service of transporting Singapore tourists on their holidays in Malaysia has been severely impacted.
“Singapore was our main bread and butter with about 30% of our revenues from this market,” she says, adding that she used to work closely with travel agents in Singapore to handle groups and FIT movements into Malaysia.
“I don’t see the green lane between Malaysia and Singapore going to help my business much. It’s not for tourists. It’s more for workers and the business sector,” she remarked.
Yusof says the critical task at hand for Tourism Malaysia is to focus on domestic tourism by restoring their confidence to travel again, providing the latest safety guidelines, promoting lower-density and off-the-beaten-track destinations, and encouraging industry collaborations to develop attractive packages.
The local travel trade is rising up the challenge of pivoting their business towards the domestic market.
Gan, too, has had to pivot and expand his business focus. The group is now turning to secure government events and meetings to fill up guest rooms and meeting halls. They are also partnering with foodservice delivery platforms to keep their kitchens open and running, expanding their market to reach non-hotel guests.
Alip has started investing in digital marketing and creating group packages for day trips and overland tours to put her tour vehicles in service, but finds that “people are still sceptical of travelling in groups at the moment.” She added: “Malaysians don’t need travel agents to travel domestically. They prefer to make travel plans on their own.”
Singapore has always been ranked first in terms of tourist arrivals into Malaysia with arrivals exceeding 10 million annually for the past 12 years. The 2020 tourism figures from Tourism Malaysia showed huge declines of 41.3 per cent in the first three months.
According to Tourism Malaysia, only 1.5 million arrivals from Singapore were recorded for Malaysia in Q1 2020, a drastic decline from 2.6 million arrivals from the neighbouring country in Q1 2019.
Correspondingly, the total expenditure from Singaporean tourists recorded a significant decline of 56.5 per cent in Q1 2020 to RM2.7 billion, down from RM6.2 billion in the first three months of 2019.
A recent survey undertaken by the Malaysian Association of Hotels had reported low occupancy rates in major cities including in Johor, which was between 12% and 20%, due to the effect of the pandemic and border closure.