KUALA LUMPUR: As the year 2020 draws to an end, Malaysian tourism players are looking forward to the implementation of strategies outlined under the National Tourism Policy (DPN) 2020-2030 which they hope will drive the industry.

They are optimistic of a steady, albeit slow, recovery of tourism activities – which contributed RM240.2 billion, or 15.9 percent, to Malaysia’s gross domestic product in 2019 – through the implementation of the strategies even though the Covid-19 pandemic has yet to show any sign of abating.

In 2019, foreign tourist receipts grew 2.4 percent to RM86.1 billion from 26.1 million tourist arrivals. This year, however, Covid-19 has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry which suffered losses estimated at over RM100 billion.

With the international borders of most countries, including Malaysia’s, still closed, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation has projected that it would take at least two to four years for the global tourism sector to fully recover.

On Dec 23, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin launched DPN 2020-2030 to revive and rejuvenate the tourism industry by strengthening competitiveness and developing a sustainable and inclusive tourism sector that is prepared for, as well as resilient against, future disasters.

The policy will be implemented through six strategic thrusts, including the creation of special investment zones for tourism projects to boost public-private cooperation and to lure more local and international investors.

Generate higher income

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) chief executive officer Sherene Azli said the council is confident that DPN 2020-2030 will help to revitalise the nation’s tourism industry in a dynamic and strategic manner.

“We are confident Malaysia will go on to be a premier destination for tourists globally in line with MHTC’s efforts to uplift Malaysia’s image as a World Healthcare Marvel and to achieve its projection of at least RM1 billion in healthcare tourism revenue in 2022,” she told Bernama.

MHTC will also collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) to ensure that Malaysia continues to be a destination of choice for healthcare tourists whose safety and well-being are assured via the implementation of strict standard operating procedures.

Commenting on the government’s proposal to create investment zones for tourism projects, Sherene said projects incorporating healthcare tourism elements are expected to generate progressively higher income for the nation.

“A healthcare destination that covers all aspects of healthcare and well-being is seen as part of a holistic eco-tourism initiative. This includes elderly care services for the aging population segment that has not been widely tapped yet and is suitable for short-term to long-term stays, complete with medical services and facilities,” she said.

Three initiatives

Pointing out that MHTC is always ready to diversify its efforts to spur the growth of the healthcare tourism sector during this Covid-19 phase, Sherene said it has been having discussions with the government, industry leaders from the public and private sectors and MHTC member hospitals to plan strategies to meet the current challenges.

One strategy they have identified is enhancing the use of digital services to upgrade the delivery of healthcare services.

“The potential of the digital platform should be maximised through close collaboration with MHTC member hospitals to implement services such as telehealth to facilitate doctor-patient communication and continuation of care,” she added.

On MHTC’s plans for the next five years, Sherene said they will implement a series of three initiatives, the first of which encompasses raising Malaysia’s profile as a World Healthcare Marvel whilst building a strong platform to launch the Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel campaign at the appropriate time.

“Our second initiative is to strengthen Malaysia’s position as the fertility and cardiology hubs of Asia and as a centre of excellence for oncology,” she said, adding that the third initiative is to groom selected hospitals under the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital programme to become international landmarks for the provision of world-class healthcare services.

Create new strategies

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang, meanwhile, said there is a need to create new strategies to generate demand for tourism and travel products by taking into consideration factors such as safety and health protocols implemented by the government, physical distancing, the overall increasingly fragile situation due to the pandemic and uncertainty over the reopening of international borders in the near future.

“Our expectations for the coming years also cover initiatives to promote and rebrand various tourism destinations, as well as promote digitalisation, product and infrastructure development, health and safety assurance, holiday packages, and incentives for domestic and foreign travel plans that were postponed,” he said.

On the push towards digitalisation under DPN 2020-2030, Tan hoped that the government would also consider the role of local stakeholders by seriously looking into the development of online travel assets established locally.

“For the domestic tourism sector, we have the capability to host online platforms and we hope the government would encourage the use of local platforms (for booking holiday and travel packages), instead of relying on foreign platforms,” he said.

He said MATTA has also introduced its online fair by offering over 1,000 holiday and tourism packages to fulfill the needs of Malaysian travellers looking for attractive and unique vacation options.

Tan also hoped that after Malaysia reopens its international borders, the allocations provided under Budget 2021 would be utilised for important components in the tourism industry.

“This includes improving the quality of air connectivity, promoting Malaysia as a safe destination and providing incentives to foreign investors to help promote Malaysia,” he added.

Promote cultural villages

Malaysian Tourism Council president Uzaidi Udanis, meanwhile, wants to see closer collaboration between tourism industry players and operators of cultural village products nationwide in an effort to enhance the credibility of tourism products, as well as strengthen the domestic tourism sector.

“Such collaboration will enable cultural village product operators to come up with interesting programmes to attract tourists. There’s no point in beautifying the halls and stages within the cultural village when no programmes are offered to attract the attention of tourists,” he said.

He said the RM20 million allocation under Budget 2021 to improve infrastructure and step up promotions of cultural village products, particularly those located in Terengganu, Sarawak and Negeri Sembilan, is a good and comprehensive move by the government.

Uzaidi said it is, however, regretful that industry players were still not keen to promote Malaysia’s cultural villages.

“In Bali (Indonesia), for instance, we can see that the local communities are proud to promote their culture and traditions. In Malaysia, however, we are not doing much to promote our local customs and cultural activities,” he added. — Bernama