LANGKAWI, Malaysia, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Businesses at Malaysia’s prime holiday destination are gearing up to welcome the return of tourists this week, as the country takes an early step towards recovery from a devastating coronavirus crisis.
Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands in the Straits of Malacca, will reopen from Sept. 16 to fully vaccinated travellers as part of a domestic tourism bubble, with strict protocols in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurant owner Esther Lee said she was excited the bubble was finally being launched.
“Finally we can welcome customers and this is actually our main source of income to actually survive,” she said.
“We have like staff under us, we have overhead costs to bear so we definitely need dining customers.”
The plan is similar to that introduced in Thailand, which started with the July reopening 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, bird life and rock formations, is not expecting huge numbers initially, with 400,000 visitors targeted by the end of the year and estimated revenues of 165 million ringgit ($39.66 million).
“We still do not want congestion even though we need a high number. What is important is that we can control the tourists to ensure their compliance,” said Tuan Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib, head of the Langkawi development authority.
Malaysia has recorded 2 million coronavirus cases overall among its 32 million population, one of Asia’s highest per-capita infection rates, with more than 20,000 deaths.
Its vaccination programme has progressed faster than its neighbours, with more than half the population inoculated, in the hope of a quicker return to normalcy.
“A big sign of relief, the team is ready, everybody is very happy to welcome you know, our local tourists again,” said Arnaud Girodon, general manager of luxury resort The Datai Langkawi.
“We can’t wait to see them back.”