Malaysia suspends all international meetings till 30 April

International meetings are now suspended - the MICE industry is complying to contain the spread of COVID‐19

Penang: postponing events in line with the government's directive. Credit: Getty

KUALA LUMPUR - Hotels in Malaysia are facing a heavy drop of events with cancellations and postponements after the government announced a directive to stop international meetings till April 30.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) CEO, Mr Yap Lip Seng, said that even before the directive was made, as a result of the wave of local cases, many events were already called off or postponed and city hotels that depended on large events were badly affected.

He said: "With this current advisory, we foresee that organisers will take extra precautions and not take the risk of planning anything for the next six months at a minimum. This means that the entire market is basically crippled for the year."

Mr Yap added that with the uncertainties regarding COVID‐19, of when a vaccine is developed and of how long it will take to be managed, the best‐case scenario is a year‐end recovery for the tourism industry. He pointed out: "The industry can only hope to manage its costs and survive with sufficient cash flow. To ease the burden of cash flow is our utmost priority now for the next economic stimulus package from the government.

The industry needs to be a responsible component of the country, while promotions and special packages are ongoing efforts, we also recognise the need to contain the situation and minimise any possibility of spread of the COVID‐19 coronavirus."

The Malaysian prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced on 13 March, that all assemblies including international conferences, sports, social and religious events be postponed or cancelled depending on the suitability until April 30, 2020. This was following the sharp rise in cases involving the COVID‐19 infections in the country but the PM said the decision will be revised if the situation improves.

He also said that cruise ships will only be allowed to dock to resupply and also said that only Malaysian crew members will be allowed to disembark after undergoing strict health screenings. Mr Muhyiddin said that the tourism industry was estimated to have losses of about RM3.37 billion (US$780 million) from January to February.

The Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) has issued a statement that said: "MyCEB would like to take precautions on the postponement and cancellation of business events following the COVID‐19 pandemic and the overall impact it would have on the following business events. This is in line with the safety guidelines by the Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia."

Two conventions have been cancelled - the Annual Conference & General Assembly of the International Association of Congress Centres - AIPC 2020, and the District 87 10th Annual Conference 2020 (Toastmaster International). Other conventions and exhibitions have been postponed and the full list is here.

Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) CEO, Mr Ashwin Gunasekeran, advised all business events organisers to postpone their events until the situation is under control. He added that the safety and wellbeing of the general public should be the top priority.

He said: "Should organisers of smaller business events such as seminars, trainings, and meetings continue with their programmes, we urge you to consider migrating your event online. As of date, the hospitals identified for COVID-19 screening are Penang Hospital, Kepala Batas Hospital, Seberang Jaya Hospital and Bukit Mertajam Hospital with the Penang Hospital being the sole confirmed isolation facility in the state."

Penang's chief minister, Mr Chow Kon Yeow had on 13 March, said the state government has decided to postpone or cancel all programmes and activities planned by them and this included the annual George Town Festival 2020. The state had their first reported positive case of the coronavirus on 10 March.

Business Events Sarawak (BESarawak) CEO, Ms Amelia Roziman, said they will stand by the Malaysian government's decision as the safety and the security of people come first and will additionally postpone events with over 250 delegates (state government directive). She said that it has given them the opportunity to focus on internal development and management, and re‐strategising their plans for the year ahead and postponing all sales and marketing travel activities.

Ms Roziman said: "For organisers and the industry, we play our role as the bureau to advise all parties accordingly and keep them updated. We have at least 30 out of 50 confirmed events this year welcoming over 250 delegates and in our effort to mitigate the spread of the virus, we have postponed these events."

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