Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced on 22 October that starting 15 November, Langkawi will welcome fully‐vaccinated foreign visitors from a soon-to-be-released list of "high-yield" countries.
The news was widely anticipated by travel industry associations that have been calling for the urgent reopening of borders to boost its flagging tourism industry.
Travellers will not be subject to any quarantine period, but they will need to do Real‐Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT‐PCR) tests, 72 hours prior to departure. If their stay was only for the required minimum of three days, they may opt to use the results of a RT‐PCR test taken on the second day of their stay. This would be for tourists flying into Langkawi directly.
If via Kuala Lumpur International Airport, they would need to do a rapid molecular testing there.
If tourists stay longer than five days, they will need to do a test on the fifth day at their own expense. Additionally, each tourist must have a minimum insurance coverage of US$80,000 (RM320,000); use a tourism service licensed under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture; and have a passport, visa, health declaration form, and letter of undertaking and indemnity, with the documents uploaded and registered with the MySejahtera tracking application prior to travelling.
MAH's N. Subramaniam (right) and MATTA's Nigel Wong welcome the new plan, but warn there are still more details to iron out.
N. Subramaniam, Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) president said it is important to prepare stakeholders to welcome international travellers while marketing the country as a safe tourism destination again. This was echoed by Nigel Wong, honourary Secretary General of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) who said the industry has been pushing for this move for such an initiative similar to Phuket’s sandbox.
To manage the influx of tourist traffic, each tour group will only be allowed to take on a maximum of 20 pax, accompanied by a mandatory local guide. If any tourists are found to be positive, they will be placed in isolation/quarantine centres or private hospitals.
“The pilot project, however, can be improved with clearer guidelines, particularly on some key mandatory requirements such as insurance, the use of travel and tour operators as well as tour guides," pointed out MAH’s Subramaniam.
"The requirement of insurance of minimum coverage is still vague as to the type of insurance and the amount is deemed as too high. Thailand for example, from 1 November, will be open for fully vaccinated travellers from selected countries with general health insurance of minimum US$50,000 coverage."
Wong agreed that the cost was the insurance limit could be a deterrent especially from the ASEAN region, which accounted for two‐thirds of all arrivals before the pandemic.
He added that while the focus might be on high‐yield country visitors, the needs of the industry must be taken into consideration as many in the industry cater to various tourist demographics. When domestic tourism was allowed for Langkawi from 16 September, Wong noted that it proved to be a success.
“This bubble will have its own set of challenges, but the trial period of three months can be used to see which areas can be improved upon and then expanded to other destinations. The cap on group size, may have mixed results as the cost of tourism products and services are affected by group size and may make it prohibitive to certain consumers,” said MATTA's Wong.
Subra also pointed out that while there will be pent‐up demand, it will be limited for those that can afford it.
Furthermore, while hotels in Langkawi should be able to meet demand, the challenge will be on appropriate pricing to balance demand between international and domestic markets and manpower management as there was loss of staff and talent during the pandemic.