Covid-19: With tourism industry at a standstill, calls for subsidies, incentives

Opalyn Mok
Association of Tourist Attractions in Penang chairman Ch’ng Huck Theng said the industry has taken a huge hit over the last six months. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, April 1 — The tourism industry has appealed to the government for a subsidy and incentive scheme to keep the industry afloat for the next six months to help overcome the financial impact from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Association of Tourist Attractions in Penang (ATAP) chairman Ch’ng Huck Theng said the industry has taken a brutal beating over the last six months with tourist arrivals coming to a halt since movement control order (MCO) was implemented.

“We have zero income during the MCO and we have to continue paying salaries and overhead costs,” he said.

He said the tourism industry will not pick up even after the MCO is lifted because the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) global pandemic meant there will not be tourists coming in from other countries.

“People will be wary of travelling and most countries have stopped their citizens from travelling, so the tourism industry will continue to suffer,” he said.

He expects the tourism industry to suffer at least another six months of minimal to zero revenue.

While applauding the government for its stimulus package and cash aid for the people, Ch’ng said small medium enterprises (SME), including those in the tourism industry, have been left out.

He said SMEs needed assistance to stay afloat so that they could continue to operate.

“What the tourism industry needs is a well planned sustainable business plan that can save the industry, save the companies and eventually save jobs,” he said.

He said the tourism industry in Penang contributes more than RM1 billion each year in tourism revenue to the state and country and has been a main industry in the state.

He likened the industry to a sinking ship due to the current situation while those on board are the employees.

“If a ship is sinking, giving the passengers cash payments or food will not save them from going down with the ship, they need to save the ship from sinking so that everyone survive,” he said.

He hoped the government could come up with another stimulus package to help the tourism industry and the SMEs in the country so that businesses will survive and people would not lose their jobs.

Ch'ng said the tourism industry is likely to suffer at least another six months of zero to minimal revenue. — Picture by KE Ooi

He said if these SMEs survive, it will have a domino effect to safeguard the jobs of the thousands of workers.

There are about 60 organisations under ATAP with several thousand employees but if any of these organisations were to close down or had to cut cost to survive, the employees will be the first on the chopping board, he said.

He suggested that the government comes up with incentives to encourage companies to retain their staff.

“The government can reduce the 2019 tax payable for companies and Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions for several months,” he said.

He proposed that the government comes up with a formula to bear 30 per cent of the industry's staff salaries, the company foot 50 per cent while the staffs take a 20 per cent pay cut for six months so that the company can survive.

He said this should also come with a condition that the companies must not retrench any workers.

While the one-off cash payments to the lower-income groups are good to help them survive for now, Ch'ng reminded the government that these people needed jobs and regular income to survive for the months to come.

“The government needs to look at stimulating the country's economy by helping SMEs and the tourism industry to weather through the storm for the next three to six months so that everyone can survive,” he said.

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