Malaysia vacation hotspot gears up to reopen with tourist bubble



By Ebrahim Harris

LANGKAWI, Malaysia (Reuters) – Businesses in Malaysia’s top holiday destination prepare to welcome the return of tourists this week, as the country takes a first step towards recovery from a devastating coronavirus crisis.

Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands in the Strait of Malacca, will reopen from September 16 to fully vaccinated travelers as part of an indoor tourism bubble, with strict protocols in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurant owner Esther Lee said she was thrilled the bubble was finally launched.

“Finally, we can accommodate clients and that is actually our main source of income to survive,” she said.

“We have like staff under us, we have overhead costs to bear, so we definitely need catering customers. “

The plan is similar to the one introduced in Thailand, which began with the reopening in July of Phuket, 220 km (137 miles) north of Langkawi, to vaccinated foreign tourists. Malaysia has yet to invite foreign tourists to return.

Like Phuket, Langkawi, known for its beaches, geoparks, birds and rock formations, doesn’t expect huge numbers to start with, with 400,000 visitors targeted by year-end and estimated income. to 165 million ringgit ($ 39.66 million).

“We still don’t want congestion even though we need a high number. What is important is that we can control tourists to ensure compliance,” said Tuan Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib, head of the Langkawi Development Authority.

Malaysia has recorded a total of 2 million cases of the coronavirus among its 32 million people, one of the highest per capita infection rates in Asia, with more than 20,000 deaths.

Its vaccination program has progressed faster than its neighbors, with more than half of the population vaccinated, in the hope of a faster return to normal.

“A big sign of relief, the team is ready, everyone is very happy to welcome you again you know, our local tourists,” said Arnaud Girodon, General Manager of the Datai Langkawi luxury resort.

“We can’t wait to see them again.”

(Written by Martin Petty, edited by Raissa Kasolowsky)


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