Striving for post-Covid19 tourism recovery
Published on: Sunday, May 10, 2020
By: Datuk John Lo
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The Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu, with members from the whole spectrum of Sabah’s economy including senior government officials and GLC, bankers, professionals, consultants, major tourism players, held a Zoom discussion on 7th May 2020 on the impact of Covid19. Dr. Sen, a senior official of Wild Life Department was the organizer with Datuk Vincent Pung as moderator. Many ideas in this piece have been generated from this meeting.

Congratulations to Datuk Christina Liew for being the first minister to initiate post Covid19 recovery action for tourism in Sabah with a meeting with all her senior officials. The conclusion of this meeting was to upgrade tourism products, their maintenance and construction of new ones. These are very important housekeeping functions, most appropriately done during a down turn for two reasons – [a] Least interference to perform these tasks during this low peak time. [b] These newly spruced up tourism products will be ready to receive tourists when recovery commences.

We hope she will also look into the other tourism aspects for Sabah if they are not already in the works.

Post Covid19’s new tourism reality for Sabah

Without saying, the world has changed by Covid19. A new reality is dawning. Pre Covid19 is gone. Those who can ready the new reality and adapt to it will be the winner. We hope Sabah tourism, under Liew will emerge in the forefront. To achieve this, Sabah will need a new tourism model for post Covid19. Assembling this new tourism model will be challenging. It is hoped that all tourism players and related parties will make their constructive contributions, by which I mean, not trying to extract advantages in a selfish manner, but for the benefit of the industry and Sabah.

Tourism players’ view and constructive contributions.

In the process of building up this tourism model, I hope Datuk Christina will meet the tourism players soonest to hear their view and more importantly, for them to make known to the Sabah government of their possible constructive contributions for Sabah’s post Covid19 tourism recovery. Very helpful in this respect will be the airlines, hotel and owners of hotels and major tourism product owners. Equally important is for their views to converge and synchronized as much as possible for cost and speed effectiveness of implementation of our tourism recovery plan.

I will now deal with the airlines first. Simple logic tells us without airlines, there can be no tourists coming to Sabah as more than 90pc of them come by air. Also, by simple logic, airlines from China should receive attention priority for four reasons –

[a] More than 100 flights from China flew into Sabah pre Covid19 bringing more than 500,ooo Chinese tourists. They are familiar with Sabah and have popularised Sabah in China.

[b] China is ahead by far in economic re-opening. More on this later.

[c] Getting Chinese airlines to assist in marketing Sabah in China post Covid19 will be far more effective than anyone else. Their in-depth market knowledge and network cannot be matched. [d] China’s airlines have emerged with the least financial scar from Covid19.

The bigger hotels, stand alone or from international hotel chain, have excellent sales and marketing teams and decent budgets which can help to contribute our tourism recovery post Covid19. The Shangri-La, Hyatt, Hotel Inn, Novetel, Le Meridian etc should be able to provide valuable assistance and market advice.

Likewise, major tourism players, people like Mr. Robert Lo [member of RCKK] of Sipadan Mabul Resort, who has donated RM250,000 for Wuhan Funds. He and fellow major players have some unique access in China which, if not used, will be a great waste.

Most importantly, Sabah can use the existing excellent China/Sabah relationship. Seek help from the Chinese Consul General in KK. I think he will be more than happy to help.

V or U shape Covid19 recovery? Which countries will lead in recovery?

With the benefit of considerable hindsight now and management styles of major countries, Covid19 recovery will not be V shape or fast. It will be a U shape for the global economy. Trump is still grappling with the pandemic without a definite direction. He spends too much time in self-praise and quarrelling with some state governors. USA has more Covid19 cases and deaths in the world. American unemployed at 15pc is highest since the great depression in the 1930s. His re-opening of the USA economy will bring uncertainties. EU countries, especially Italy and Spain seem to be settling down but full recovery will take time. China is the only country that is re-opening up at a steady pace. China by itself will not be produce a V shape global recovery. The Chinese success in re-opening is good news for Sabah because of the close economic relationship that has already been built up. South Korea and Taiwan have done well too. 

Post Covid19 tourism model

I like Datuk Christina’s comment that Sabah should aim for high value tourists in post Covid19. This is logical.

[a] The pockets of mass tourists are being hard hit now. It will take a while for them to find employment, recover financially and longer still to earn and save for holidays which will not their immediate priority.

[b] Sabah, with an appropriate marketing plan, has the environment/wherewithal to attract high value tourists.

The marketing plan for SICC should be made known widely by now. MICE can attract high value tourists.

An important component of this post Covid19 model and long-term tourism survival is to attract the right type investors for hotels and tourism products. Thailand has succeeded in overcoming many major down turns because, among many other things, is its policy to encourage foreign investors in hotels, boutique beach resorts and tourism products. The success-trick is a well-balanced ratio between local and foreign investors. Foreign investors, having put their money into the ground, will want to fight for recovery as hard as the locals.

Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, when he was CM/Minister of Tourism, introduced an incentive scheme for airlines to land in KK. His novel initiative began the first-ever wave of new airlines coming to Sabah. Maybe we can introduce Tan Sri Chong’s success story in a modified form in the post Covid19 tourism model.

A good starting recovery point is for Sabah to install appropriate safety measures and be able to provide necessary health assurance to China, South Korea, Taiwan etc. Their confidence in our health care and prevention system will be crucial.

Tourism recover success is every Sabahan’s responsibility

Make no mistake about it, tourism is tough business even in good times. Competition among destinations is cut-throat, really demanding. As can be expected, post Covid19 recovery will be complex and much tougher. There will be many challenges during the recovery process which will require pragmatic leadership and decisions. But the reward of a speedy recovery will benefit the biggest number of Sabahans directly and indirectly.

It is common knowledge that tourism has generated most employment for Sabahans, more than oil palm and lots more than oil and gas. It has generated receipt in excess of RM8 billion, almost equivalent to 2 times Sabah’s budget. Many Sabahans who have been dependent on tourism and their families have been badly affected by this pandemic. For their sake and for Sabah’s economic well-being, we must strive for tourism recovery soonest. Going forward, every Sabahans should support and contribute towards the success of Datuk Christina’s recovery plan. An early and speedy tourism recovery will benefit all. Every Sabahan has a stake and a role to play in this recovery endeavour.

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