Frankly Speaking: Plan B needed

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 3, 2020 - February 09, 2020.
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Last Tuesday, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Mohammadin Ketapi said he did not see a need to revise Malaysia’s target of 30 million tourists and RM100 billion in receipts for Visit Malaysia Year 2020, as he expects the impact from the spread of the coronavirus to be minimal.

Since then, China has banned international group travel in an effort to contain the spread of the Wuhan virus while Sabah has suspended all incoming flights from China.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.

The number of infected patients as at Thursday reached 9,799, of whom 9,692 were in China, with the remaining from 21 countries. The death toll has climbed to 213, all in China.

China is an important tourist market for Malaysia, as arrivals from the Middle Kingdom have been the third highest since 2015, contributing about a fifth to Malaysia’s tourism earnings.

In the light of the recent measures and the WHO declaration, perhaps a downward revision to targets would be timely, given the current circumstances? This is particularly so because the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association says its members have reported an 80% cut in bookings from China involving 300,000 tourists.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry of Thailand is reportedly mulling a cut to its 2020 revenue target, as China is also an important market to the country.

It is better to make a downward adjustment and surpass the goal than to aim high and possibly miss the target, yet again. For eight straight years, tourism targets have not been met and we are likely to miss 2019 targets as well.

If a revision is unlikely, hopefully Putrajaya has a very good Plan B that will see tourists from other parts of the world offsetting the revenue shortfall from China.

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