Malaysia sees upsurge in domestic tourism as hotels fill up with year-end holidaymakers

Island destinations such as Langkawi are popular and seeing higher hotel occupancy rates after being hit hard by the pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Lawyer Aida Abdul and her family have not taken a holiday break since Malaysia first implemented the movement control order in March, not wishing to risk contracting Covid-19.

But starting to feel a touch of cabin fever, they decided to take advantage of the long Christmas weekend.

"My husband has been stuck at home since March. If he doesn't go on a short holiday, he might kill us all," Madam Aida laughingly told The Straits Times.

Most hotels she looked at online were full, but she managed to secure a room at a beach resort in Kuantan, Pahang, when she called it up directly.

"I'm not feeling too paranoid because we are staying in an outdoor chalet and not in a hotel room, so there is less risk of bumping into people. I sprayed everything with disinfectant before letting everyone in," said the 42-year-old mother of three.

Malaysia's hoteliers cheered when interstate travel was allowed to resume on Dec 7.

Hotel bookings shot up over Christmas and for the upcoming New Year period, mostly at beach resorts, according to the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), which represents more than 900 hotels nationwide.

Quite a number of hotels are offering promotions, with discounts of up to 70 per cent.

But many domestic travellers are still likely to be prudent with spending and postpone vacation plans due to the flagging economy, coupled with the fear of contracting Covid-19.

In previous years, hoteliers recorded an occupancy rate of up to 90 per cent during the Christmas period.

"For the year-end holiday period, we expect an average occupancy rate of 50 to 60 per cent, depending solely on the domestic market," MAH chief executive officer Yap Lip Seng was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily on Dec 21.

"People are cautious about making bookings mainly because they do not want to be caught in travel restrictions. At the same time, there is pent-up demand for travel," he said.

Island destinations such as Langkawi are popular and seeing higher hotel occupancy rates after being hit hard by the pandemic.

"We were informed that hotel bookings around the island have been encouraging and if it stays that way, we can achieve the target of 250,000 tourist arrivals this month," Langkawi Development Authority chief executive officer Ahmad Hezri Adnan was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency on Dec 19.

Since Dec 17, the Langkawi International Airport has been handling more than 20 flight arrivals per day from KLIA2, Senai International Airport, Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport and Penang International Airport.

More flights are expected to be added.

"We are seeing a high occupancy rate this Christmas weekend," said a worker at the five-star Datai Langkawi resort.

The Majestic Hotel in KL saw a surge in bookings after the government lifted the travel ban.

"We had a full occupancy rate on December 25 and today (Dec 26) we are seeing a very high occupancy rate as well. We are already fully-booked for Dec 31," said one of its workers.

"Our main hub, KL International Airport is expecting more than 99,000 domestic passengers and 19,000 international passengers for the period between Dec 24 to 31, a fourfold increase from the same period last month," Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) group chief executive officer Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said in a statement on Dec 23.

But with the country's cumulative infections having crossed the 100,000 mark on Dec 24, some Malaysians remain wary of travelling.

"We are staying at home because of Covid-19. I want to go on holiday and relax but not in this current climate," said homemaker Katrina Razali, 40.

"I can't relax when all I can think of is 'Is this safe?'"

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