The Covid-19 pandemic continues to decimate the hospitality industry worldwide in unprecedented ways. In Malaysia, The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) recently estimated losses of RM100 billion in 2020, while the hotel sector has previously estimated losses of about RM6.4 billion with room occupancy averaging below 40 per cent.
Hundreds of hotels have closed for good, impacting thousands of jobs since the MCO was first announced in March 2020. Many closed their operations for unspecified periods, and more are expected to follow suit during and after MCO 2.0. It is not just hotels that are suffering but also other business activities related to the tourism sector.
According to the Tourism Satellite Accounts for 2019, an estimated 3.6 million jobs are linked to the tourism sector, ranging from accommodation, F&B, passenger transport, travel agencies, recreational activities, retail sale of automotive fuel and retail trade. A conservative estimate of 30 per cent of jobs at risk in this sector would translate into approximately 1.1 million jobs. More worrisome is that these numbers are expected to further rise in the coming days and weeks as tourism players face the full brunt of MCO 2.0. Amidst this, we are relieved to hear that MCO 2.0 is likely to end on 4 February 2021, with the Director-General of Health also acknowledging this heavy economic burden.
Despite the plunge in tourism activity, the hospitality industry has not been idle during this pandemic. We have been supporting communities in Malaysia, providing critically-needed places to rest for weary essential workers such as hospital workers, caregivers and first responders, as well as a temporary home base for those who live too far from their workplace, especially those who rely on public transportation with reduced service hours during MCO 2.0.
Trapped in this seemingly interminable cycle of movement control levels, Malaysians were relieved at the news of upcoming vaccination programmes. While OYO welcomes the prime minister’s recent announcement that almost 27 million or over 80 per cent of Malaysia’s population are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the first quarter of 2022, the hospitality sector fears that our frontliners will be among the last to be vaccinated.
Our stark truth is, the survival of this sector cannot depend on a holding pattern for another year. To ensure the hospitality industry in Malaysia remains viable and sustainable, OYO is taking the public stand that the frontliners in the hospitality industry should be given priority for COVID-19 vaccination, after medical frontliners, the elderly and other high risk groups. With vaccine supply initially limited, availability to frontliners in essential sectors including hospitality will be critical for keeping the economy going and communities running, by protecting the personnel and reducing the likelihood of crippling clusters emanating from the workplace.
As policymakers turn their attention to what we hope is the end stage of this public health emergency and finalises its allocation and distribution plans, it is a relief to see the Government paying attention to the need to vaccinate workers, as part of the national strategy to contain the pandemic raging within our borders. In this spirit, we urge Putrajaya to recognise the essential nature of workers in the hospitality industry.
Having said that, we also recognise the whole of society outlook shown by private sector players in finding new ways to alleviate this healthcare emergency challenge and are open to collaborating with other sectors to ensure that hospitality workers can be effectively vaccinated in a timely manner. OYO remains committed to being an important resource and doing our part for the community in Malaysia.
Together, we can accelerate the end of this public health crisis and mark the beginning of recovery for the hospitality industry. When those in the hospitality industry are protected, it will send a strong message to the world that Malaysia is safe and the country is open for business.
Tan Ming Luk is Vice President and Head of OYO Malaysia & Singapore. OYO Hotels & Homes, a young hotel startup, today is the world’s leading chain of hotels and homes. OYO today operates in over 800 cities in 80 countries.
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