Travel, tourism and hospitality associations provide survival, recovery support in Asia

With the travel, tourism and hospitality industries being among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, representing business associations in Asia have been working hard to convey their members’ difficulties and needs to the top authorities to ensure sufficient government support for businesses and their employees.

In mid-April, the World Travel & Tourism Council estimated over 100 million job losses in the sector worldwide, with 63.4 million travel and tourism jobs projected to be impacted in Asia alone.

National associations representing travel agents, tour guides, hotels, attractions event suppliers have worked hard to secure government support during this crisis

At the onset of the outbreak in early February, the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS), the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), the Singapore Association of Conference & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS), the Association of Singapore Attractions worked closely with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to lay out their members’ and industries’ concerns, as well as to formulate both short- and long-term solutions.

As tourism slowly petered out during the early days of the outbreak, NATAS, SHA and the Society of Tourists Guides Singapore (STGS) launched a set of recommended guidelines and comprehensive plans to aid tour operators, hoteliers and tourist guides in safeguarding the well-being of tourists.

SHA has also implemented a web-based archive for its members and the general public to keep abreast of updates on guidelines and ministerial advisories from the Food, Drinks & Allied Workers Union, the Ministry of Health and STB.

SACEOS launched a series of seminars – and later, virtual sessions – featuring clinics on topics ranging from risk management to legal advice, and continues to keep its members updated on the latest announcements and directives from Singapore’s multi-ministry taskforce.

NATAS, SHA and STGS are also maintaining dialogues with government agencies to identify solutions for Singapore’s rebound as a stronger tourism destination.

Across the border, the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) has been championing the economic value of the business events industry. During the ongoing health and economic crisis, MACEOS highlighted the devastation felt by the local business events industry. It noted that the industry has to-date suffered more than RM1.5 billion (US$344.7 million) in losses due to event cancellations and postponements. In the worst-case scenario, MACEOS’ study showed that only 12 per cent of the companies in the sector would be able to survive beyond six months.

In its effort to save the business events industry, MACEOS submitted a financial funding proposal to the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, outlining a number of areas that the government could do to sustain the industry. The proposed lifelines include subsidised salaries, waiver of an employer’s contribution to the Employees Provident Fund, financial support for exhibition venues affected by widespread postponements and cancellations this year, grants for professional training, and more.

The association also called for an incubation programme to support homegrown business and lifestyle events that could serve as a strong base for complementary events to generate extensive publicity that will position Malaysia as a distinctive business events destination.

Meanwhile, in partnership with the Business Events Council Malaysia and Arts, Live Festival and Events Association, MACEOS has set up a special task force to develop standard operating procedures for the business events industry in the post-lockdown period.

In Thailand, the Thai Hotels Association (THA) has played a crucial part the past months in helping their members across the country’s four regions to lobby the government for hotel closure orders in various provinces. Without the hotel closure orders, hospitality staff would be locked out of the country’s social security fund and access relief measures.

After nearly a month of lobbying, 13 provinces including Phuket, Chonburi (Pattaya), Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, Phang Nga and Prachuabkirikhan (Hua Hin) have now issued hotel closure orders. The coronavirus situation has since been declared a force majeure event which enables formally employed staff who have lost jobs due to reasons related to Covid-19 to receive stimulus payments.

THA’s work is not done. It continues to vocalise through the media to ensure stimulus payments reach the hospitality workers. Throughout the crisis, the THA has been a united front for the Thai hospitality industry to draw the country’s attention to the needs of hoteliers and workers, and the direct and indirect implications of government relief measures to date on the Thai hospitality industry.

The critical work of associations continues to be played out in the Philippines, where collective voices of industry stakeholders resonated within government walls.

When the Philippine government locked down 60 per cent of the country in mid-March in a controversial effort to address covid-19, more than 20 business associations reached out with recommendations on financing and stimulus packages to help businesses, most of which are small and medium scale enterprises.

At press time, the Department of Tourism is attending to the suggestions of various tourism associations for financial and fiscal assistance, among other things. – Additional reporting by S Puvaneswary, Anne Somanas and Rosa Ocampo

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