Hospitality and Shopping Fall Victims to COVID-19

By Sarawakian

There has never been a force so lethal that would affect the hospitality industry and the shopping industry until COVID-19 became a pandemic. We have seen how many have started to worry about carrying on. Costs of business have escalated and many have started to seek help from the government for handouts.

The travel industry is being hit right, left and centre with heavy punches economically. Flights have been frozen. Planes have been grounded. Tours and travel have been stopped and cancelled abruptly. The promise to serve, produce and pay was stopped in its tracks. With this came the sudden need for fuel and ancillary requirements.

We have read how hotels in Malaysia have to announce MSS (Mutual Separation Schemes) and VSS (Voluntary Separation Schemes). Some have even laid off their staff, furloughed staff and chose a long hiatus to shut their premises. Without a demand for rooms, hotels would be challenged to find a revenue scheme. I do not think selling coupons and vouchers would work anymore when you are worried if your industry would be next in line to cut you off from their compensation scheme. This is especially true for urban and semi urban populations. Not so for those who are  in rural areas who have lived in simplicity and can adapt with adversity easily.

Local travels have not been a possibility as it would mean spending money which is better off saved. But still, governments around the world are trying to do this to save the tourism economy. This would need prices to go down and safety to be near guaranteed. Some countries in Europe have proposed tourism bubbles amongst countries. It sounds good but its feasibility, challenging to say the least. This idea revolves around two countries or more who have a shared vision of what would be low infection rates, adequate medical facilities and agreed screening standards.

Some countries in ASEAN are looking at this possibility but the real fear is containment. Is it worth the risk to create tourism bubbles? Opening up of borders is a risky move. Whilst many would agree that we cannot keep on living in fear forever, we must take heed of timeliness. Have we really got the grasp of things?  Until then, the best bet is for the governments around the globe to rethink tourism. It also provides a well needed respite from overcrowding and damages by irresponsible tourists. It sets a possible reboot to ensure facilities and attractions are limited and pre booked. Disneyland Shanghai which reopened on 11 May 2020 managed this well. Suddenly, many found the lesser crowds at any given time value for their money spent. With controlled crowd capacity, it saves costs and facilities kept cleaner and in good working order. Safety is also easier to do. Social distancing, mandatory face mask wearing and contact tracing QR scanning became their new normal.

Business travels would be cut in view of operational cost cutting measures. Commercial flights would continue to suffer lower passenger loads after this when allowed or risking to start again. Businesses would rather continue to use online meetings like Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams to catch up and do the same meetings they used to do physically. Some countries also use this for inter government meetings as well as conferences. Some also used them in parliament unlike us in Malaysia. Internet connectivity is not perfect but with the current experience, most providers are looking at improvements as the opportunities lie in value and speed.

This would affect the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) industry. Rooms would not be able to be filled and seasons would no longer be the set projections for income and costs.  Domestic Tourism would be clue to revival but it needs a strong plan and will to do. It comes down to room rates and safety. That means room prices would need to come down and the room from the sheets to all surfaces properly sanitized daily. A new business model would be required. Do not forget, Airbnb still provides an alternative.

Shopping is another industry to have fallen victim of Covid-19. The shutdown of non essential retail on 18th March 2020 with only essentials like supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and take away food allowed; have indeed struck a major blow to the retail industry. Shopping centres have been hit even worse as there are no shops open other than essentials. A cost of running a shopping centre would be extremely expensive as they would not have rental revenue.

As the shopping centres opened on 4th May 2020, not many of us have gone to them other than the typical trips to the supermarkets. This has become a habit since the MCO period. Pharmacies became a secondary stop thereafter as online purchases or even street based pharmacies became first choices. The forced restriction of travelling distance and limited persons provided a canvas for the future. This discipline was proven to be possible when everyone put their minds to it.

Shopping Centres have seen a poor response to being in the same position before the MCO. The fear remains of safety and the air circulation. It is easy to go to any one and see how crowds today are easily just 50% of before. Many spend lesser time in shopping centres as well. Until today, cinemas have not opened. Restaurants and cafes need the crowd whilst fashion does not need crowds.

Even before this, the online businesses have threatened shopping centres. But some in denial still say that humans are social beings. The need to touch and feel was needed. A place to find everything under one roof, they say. The MCO changed that. You get the same quality online. You get everything at your finger tips. You get variety. This is not for groceries, but even fashion and food.  With the new normal, shopping centres would be hard pressed to survive. Businesses would turn to street shops as they can offer a potential connection to the community. It would also offer flexibility with set opening times and a potential for click and collect or delivery services. It offers an ease for finding staff who live nearby. It would be close to public transport. Shopping centres would have to contend with online shopping experience and street shopping options. Shopping centres need to review themselves as it would no longer be as important as before for the urbanites. The economy is staring at a high unemployment rate if people don’t shift towards agriculture, health and essential services as a possible career change.

The key concerns are Safety, Security, Compliance, Enforcement and Communication. So folks let us #stayathome and #dudukrumah during this time. Please stay safe and go wash your hands often.

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