The Chinese economy plays a vital role in the economies of other countries across the world. What happens in China will also ripple across other countries.

– Thanavath Phonvichai, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce president

On March 24, Tourism Malaysia, the brand name of Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, released total arrival figures of foreign tourists to Malaysia for last year, which recorded a one percent increase over 2018.

The number was 26.1 million, making it the seventh consecutive year of missing the target. Annual targets and arrivals (in brackets) from 2013 to 2019 were 26.8 million (25.72 million), 28.0 million (27.44 million), 29.4 million (25.72 million), 30.5 million (26.76 million), 31.8 million (25.95 million), 33.1 million (25.83 million) and 28.1 million (26.1 million) respectively.

For 2020, it will be no surprise if the number dips below 10.22 million recorded in the year 2000, which brings us back to square one after 20 years. Receipts from foreign tourists were RM84.1 billion in 2018 and would have surpassed RM85 billion last year.

The small increase was again due to lower arrivals of Singaporeans but their number at 10,163,882 was still higher than nationals of the next four countries combined, with Indonesia 3,623,277, China 3,114,257, Thailand 1,884,306 and Brunei 1,216,123.

Until 2015, more than half of all foreign tourists were Singaporeans. From 2012 to 2016, their arrivals averaged 13,265,944 annually. Last year, they were second highest in per diem expenditure. Tourists stay overnight in this country and exclude excursionists on day trips.

Therefore, success in reviving inbound tourism depends very much on luring hordes of Singaporean tourists to Malaysia post Covid-19, and we have much to offer for them to make multiple visits.

These can range from overnight stay in Melaka or they can drive up along the east coast to their hearts’ content on our cheap petrol, passing through Johor, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. Or they can fly north to Penang and Langkawi or east to Sarawak and Sabah.

But it will be no longer business as usual. Those who think they could just pick up where they had left off would be in for a rude shock. It is time for everyone to realise that Covid-19 had triggered ‘World War III’, as every country in the world is fighting against the coronavirus.

If it was a bilateral military war, opposing sides could at least count on some help from friendly parties. But the war against this unseen enemy is proving to be harder than fighting imaginary aliens that have arrived to conquer the world as depicted in movies.

It is one war that can bring the United States, with the most powerful military in the world, to its knees. However, it can be won through sheer discipline, sacrifice and civic duty. Winners will emerge to place hygiene, safety and security above comfort and convenience.

Recovery of the world’s economy and tourism will depend very much on the economic stimulus packages introduced by governments around the world. In any case, aid should not be used mainly to repay debts but contingent on businesses resuming operations.

For example, the tourism ecosystem runs on a long supply chain. Without airlines, particularly budget carriers, to bring in large number of tourists, many tour buses will remain grounded, hotel rooms mostly unoccupied, restaurants near empty, and malls not getting sufficient footfalls.

In the post Covid-19 era, travellers would be more receptive to promotions by service providers and destinations that prioritise on hygiene, safety and security than the usual cliché of having fun at crowded popular sites.

It will have to start with airports adopting the latest technology and practising highest standards of hygiene to ensure all passengers and workers are in a very safe environment. Apart from effective air filtration, fumigation will have to be conducted regularly.

Greater use of automation and robots must be introduced to reduce human contact. Cashiers would have a new device to disinfect paper money and not just an ultraviolet lamp to detect counterfeit cash.

Until fumigation equipment can easily be operated by anyone, all public transport vehicles without passengers may need to be fumigated before entering or leaving any airport or bus terminal at new strategic spots to be built nearby.

Such visible exercises promote a culture of cleanliness and hygiene that inspires confidence and get noticed by visitors. The same goes to all other places where tourists may stay or visit, such as hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.

But if we were to fall back to our old ways and continue life as before, it would be no surprise that our country will no longer be among the most preferred holiday destinations, no matter how hard we try or capitalise on ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of New Sarawak Tribune.