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LETTER | Tour buses must start running or surviving operators will also succumb

LETTER | Like most businesses in the country, local travel and tour operators were also greatly impacted by the pandemic with the first Covid-19 case detected in Malaysia on Jan 25, 2020. Almost two months later, the movement control order (MCO) was introduced on March 18.

With the closing of international borders, customers of local outbound tour operators could not travel overseas. Likewise, inbound tour operators no longer received passengers from abroad, especially groups travelling in buses, as few foreign visitors could enter our country.

With little income, no company could continue to operate for long-running at a loss. Countless businesses closed, premises vacated, and many tenants could not compensate landlords. With no renters or buyers even at below-market prices, owners are stuck with unwanted properties.

Another group hit the hardest and probably even more severe are tour bus operators, as the market value of motor vehicles depreciate rapidly with no chance of appreciating when the economy recovers, unlike real estates such as land, houses, shop lots, office spaces and buildings.

Almost all tour buses are leased, with tour bus operators being the registered owner and leasing companies holding ownership claims. Leasing firms will transfer vehicle ownership to tour bus operators only after receiving payment for the last monthly instalment and residual value.

With tour buses hardly utilised and no buyer for their vehicles, operators had to surrender their tour buses or risk being repossessed by leasing companies. Fortunately, many operators get to keep their tour buses for now, after both lessors and lessees restructured the lease agreements.

But this may only be a temporary measure if there is no future income and sadly, there is no sign that Covid-19 infections are abating globally. Recently, the United States reported a record single-day number of 1,082, 548 cases on Jan 4, bringing the total to 56.189,547 in that country.

Spread of Omicron

In Malaysia, new Covid-19 cases rocketed from 113,010 in 2020 to 2,645,076 in 2021, or 7,247 cases per day. With the Omicron variant spreading like wildfire in some regions, it would be a great success for Malaysia if Covid-19 cases could be brought down by 60 percent this year.

If so, there would still be over a million new cases in 2022 or an average of 2,899 per day. Even if our country’s borders were to remain open throughout, the number of foreign visitors would be few, and much lesser would be travelling in groups that require the use of tour buses.

In Malaysia, tour bus owners could be companies specialising in inbound tours or chartering out their buses to tour companies to carry foreign or domestic passengers. Quite a number of tour bus owners are enterprising drivers renting Bas Persiaran permits from tour companies

With tour buses mainly used for the inbound tour market and with interstate travel restrictions mostly in place over the past two years, tour buses have been largely grounded. They were either parked by the roadside or stored in yards rusting under the hot sun if already repossessed.

The only chance of getting them utilised is by creating new demand in the domestic market, but tour bus operators are clueless in generating interest from the locals. It will remain so until there is a paradigm shift, which will not happen if they continue with the same narratives.

Hence, it is imperative that they are brought together to participate in a lab and confront the challenges head-on from a fresh perspective. Existing regulations should not be treated as permanent, and it is the best time to call for impediments to be lifted, if not at least temporarily.

Where funding or subsidies are required, they must be identified, calculated and proposed. Acceptance is likely if there are convincing proofs that many would benefit from the spinoffs, as the tourism industry could swiftly revitalise the economy and create many jobs for the locals.

Without such intervention and tour buses remaining largely idled as they were in the past two years, operators that have been surviving under life support are bound to succumb soon. They could either do nothing and wait for this to happen or find redemption by participating in a lab.

YS CHAN is a tourism and transport consultant and writer.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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