Prioritise aid for licensed tourism businesses

A BUSINESS news website reported that a home-sharing platform and a homestay association are seeking government aid as the Covid-19 outbreak has caused travel restrictions and disruptions, severely impacting the tourism industry.

The so-called home-sharing platform is none other than Airbnb, wanting to be part of Tourism Malaysia’s homestay/kampungstay programme, and to include individuals hosting short-term rental accommodation or providing local activities through the internet.

If granted, it will defeat the purpose of licensing, making regulators redundant and allowing giant enterprises operating in cyberspace to dictate rules that best serve their interest. It will also be a stab in the back for licensed tourism accommodation premises registered and rated by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (MoTAC).

Home-sharing, including the Malaysian Homestay Programme, is a great concept benefitting both hosts and guests tremendously. Those who have one or more spare rooms in the house or apartment they live in should be allowed to take in guests through online bookings. Such income could also go a long way to subsidise monthly rentals, housing loans or maintenance.

But when the entire house or apartment is used for short-term accommodation, it is no longer home-sharing but full-fledged apartment or house rental. Technically, these are unlicensed accommodation premises that are not regulated. It would be silly of any government to promote such a shadow economy, which has swelled to RM300 billion or 21% of Malaysia’s GDP.

The Malaysia Homestay/Kampungstay programmes are world-renowned, thanks to the high standards set by MoTAC, and should be given priority in any government aid. The public should not be confused with the many “homestay” signs placed by the roadside in the rural areas, as most of them are not part of the official programme.

Malaysia Kampungstay and Homestay Association (MKHA) vice-president Kohadie Watiman said all their homestay operations have been fully closed since March 18 as per instructions. But according to a recent media report, the president of a tourism association has a friend who runs a homestay and managed to earn approximately RM50,000 during the MCO period.

Therefore, government aid should not be given across the board but to licensed operators that have complied with regulations. It would be unfair to reward unlicensed operators or those that broke rules, as doing so will stretch the limited budget too thin for deserving recipients.

Allowing individuals to provide tourism activities booked through the internet will be as good as throwing the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business regulations and Licensing and Control of Tourist Guides regulations out of the window.

MoTAC should be beware of the classic tale of allowing a camel to get his nose under the tent, which is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions. – May 26, 2020.

* Chan YM reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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