Meetings and events professionals in Malaysia are rejoicing following senior security minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's announcement that business events will be allowed to resume in Movement Control Order (MCO) regions from Friday, 5 March.
The eight states and territories previously under the MCO — Melaka, Johor, Penang, Selangor and Sabah, as well as in the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya — will now be placed under conditional MCO with eased restrictions, until 18 March.
This means venue capacity limits will be increased from 25% to 50%, and inter-district travel will be able to recommence — except for Sabah (at the request of the local government).
Travel restrictions between Kuala Lumpur and Selangor will also be lifted, which is especially helpful for events in the Klang Valley, however wider interstate travel is still not permitted.
Following numerous appeals to government for sector support, Business Events Council Malaysia chairman and general manager of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Alan Pryor, said he is delighted by the decision to ease restrictions, and is eager to assist clients and suppliers in recommencing business events.
“We will demonstrate to government and stakeholders that we, as an industry, are responsible and committed to working together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. As demonstrated in 2020, we are confident that events can be done safely and in a controlled and regulated manner,” he said.
These sentiments were echoed by Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) president Francis Teo, who, after months of lobbying, said this is a sign of better things to come.
However, he insisted that restrictions on interstate travel would limit the success of the MICE sector's re-opening. Pryor said that through hybrid and virtual events, organisers can still connect to audiences and participants anywhere in Malaysia and internationally.
Vaccine rollout too late to save events?
Malaysia kick-started its Covid-19 vaccination programme on 24 February, which Pryor believes will help to further ease restrictions, reopen state and international borders, and speed-up industry recovery. He said the vaccine roll-out will help restore confidence that large events can take place without capacity limits.
Teo, on the other hand, voiced concern over a recent statement by the Health Ministry that indicated travel restrictions would be extended until 70% of the population was vaccinated.
“The vaccination programme is only expected to be completed by early 2022. If we are to wait until then, that may mean another year or so of a travel ban. The vaccination may save us, but the travel ban will kill us,” he stressed.
To combat this, MACEOS is advocating the government to allow event participants to cross state borders with proof of event registration while the travel ban is implemented.
The MICE and travel industries are also buoyed by the increase in capacity limits at tourist sites and attractions, which were increased to 50% on 5 March.
Both Pryor and Teo remain hopeful that ongoing dialogue with government continue, and further plans are made to revitalise the industry.