THE last time I took a flight was 16 days before the movement control order (MCO) was introduced on March 18, 2020, to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country. I travelled to Sarawak and did not wear mask during the entire trip.
Around the same time, there was a religious gathering at a mosque in Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur over four days from Feb 27 to March 1 and attracted 16,000 participants, of which 14,500 were Malaysians and 1,500 foreigners of various nationalities.
It was only on March 11 that the first Covid-19 case was detected from this gathering that developed into the largest cluster in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, everyone could travel freely and those that were cautious wore masks as the first case detected in the country was on Jan 25.
A total of 42,023 individuals were screened in this cluster and 3,375 were confirmed Covid -19 positive with 34 deaths.
This one cluster alone accounted for 38.9% of total cumulative Covid-19 cases and 28.1% of total Covid -19 deaths in the country as of July 9, 2020.
By then, the MCO had been replaced by the conditional MCO (CMCO) in May and further relaxed with the recovery MCO (RMCO) from June.
I then got to conduct some training safely in large function rooms of hotels where everyone wore masks and practised physical distancing.
But for more than 16 months from March 2020 until now, I have been grounded in Kuala Lumpur whereas in the past, I have often flown north to Penang and Langkawi or east to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu to conduct training.
On March 1, 2020, I flew to Kuching to attend a gala dinner held in conjunction with the first anniversary celebration of Suara Sarawak, a local Malay newspaper.
I was then a columnist with the New Sarawak Tribune, an English newspaper under the same group of companies.
On that fateful Sunday morning, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia.
In the evening, the dinner held at the Riverside Majestic Hotel was attended by the chief minister. The air was truly electrifying, on politics and winds of change.
For convenience, I chose to stay at the same hotel so that I could return to my room in a jiffy after dinner without having to limit my drinks.
The hotel management granted me a complimentary room, making my stay even more enjoyable and the entire trip memorable.
Earlier in 2018, I stayed in the same hotel when invited by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Sarawak to facilitate a session on “Training and Shortages of Tourist Guides in Sarawak” when the Sarawak Tourism Workshop was held.
On both occasions, the quality of guest rooms and food were on par with the best five-star hotels that I have stayed.
Although fully owned by the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, a statutory body, Riverside Majestic Hotel was surprisingly well run by a team of professionals.
Towards the end of this month, I may fly from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi to participate in a workshop to revise the modules of a compulsory course which travel agents having been attending since 2012 in order to have their company licences renewed.
In October 2016, I attended a three-week course in Langkawi with participants from other Asean countries and qualified as one of the two Asean Master Tourism Trainer for travel agencies in Malaysia. The venue was the four-star Holiday Villa Beach Resort and Spa Langkawi.
Since then, I had written much about Langkawi, focusing on Pantai Cenang, which was a disappointment to me as the entire stretch was developed haphazardly, looking more like a cowboy town when I was there than an international tourist spot for well-heeled visitors.
Walking along Jalan Pantai Cenang was not much different from any inland touristic town as the view of the open sea was blocked by shops and buildings lining both sides of the road. Man-made structures should not have been built on the side between the beach and road.
Thankfully, Pantai Cenang proved to be very popular for the local population as it was well suited for domestic visitors for its affordability, while foreign tourists choosing to stay at beach hotels were happy with the privacy of the seashore at the hotels’ backyard devoid of crowds.
After a five-year hiatus, I would be taking notes on areas where the holiday island had progressed, stagnated or regressed.
In 1994, I helped organised the first Langkawi tourist guide training course. Before that, I visited the island for meetings and checked out my branch office.
Hopefully, the Langkawi travel bubble will be a success and replicated throughout the country, and face-to-face training starts to pick up.
Zoom sessions are good for briefings but less effective than classroom training with more interactions between trainer and participants.
To develop domestic tourism intelligently, we ought to take into account the main purpose of travel for domestic visitors.
Only 10.4% were for holidays, whereas 40.6% went to visit friends and relatives. and 34.7% for shopping.
Another 5.2% were for entertainment, sport or business events, 4.6% medical treatment and 4.5% others.
So far, all my domestic travels have been business events that involved mostly training in the tourism industry.
Hence, the revival of tourism activities begins with the remobilisation of service personnel and equipment to restart operations or step up another gear.
Instead of continuing with business as usual, safety and health have become even more paramount under the new normal.
Therefore, adequate measures and contingency plans must be put in place by all tourism service providers to ensure that guests have already been fully vaccinated, tested negative and in full compliance with the latest standard operating procedures, including wearing masks and practising physical distancing.
YS Chan is a master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and an Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a tourism and transport business consultant and writer, and researcher for the Travel Industry Occupational Framework published by the Department of Skills Development. Comments: [email protected]