Off we go, finally! – by leesan

The columnist, together with many of his peers in the tourism industry, is overjoyed that the Malaysian borders will open on April 1.

The Vivid Sydney 2022 is happening from May 27 to June 18, and is expected to be one of the main attraction in Australia this year. – Apple Vacaations

IN the past few days I met up with a few of my peers in the travel industry, and I could see from their exhausted faces, some hints of hope. They were beaming with joy, and rightfully so, having gone through overwhelming hardship over the past two years.

Yes, we all know now that this April Fools’ Day is the day everyone in the Malaysian tourism industry has been eagerly waiting for – the day our international borders are finally open.

I can still remember what travel and food expert Chua Lam, who is also a friend, told me some two years back, during the early stages of the pandemic: “We have to reset our business operations and start preparing ourselves right away for the day when we get to set out for our journeys once again.”

Well, the “cage” has finally opened and all the “birds” that have long been in confinement will start to flap their wings again and fly!

Recently, many flight attendants who were forced to take leave over the past two years were summoned back to go through intensive training programmes. They would need to ready themselves to fly again, but this time with a different set of standard operating procedures. Everything looks so promising now because of news like this.

Many of us have had a tough time struggling to survive and live through the pandemic, as well as the lockdowns. But now, we have this opportunity to move about again and flex our travel muscles. We need to get ourselves mentally prepared and patiently wait for the day we can put our dust-covered passport to use again.

More importantly, though, news of the border reopening will significantly boost the country’s tourism industry and the economy in general. Jobs will be created, and people will be able to earn some income to put food on the table.

This is what I’ve been yearning to see the most, and it is a powerful force that has kept me going throughout the two years.

With travel restrictions soon relaxed, we can anticipate a tsunami-like surge in demand for outbound tours in the near future. From what I’ve learned, air fares and fuel taxes have gone up by a lot, and popular hotels in tourist areas are already fully booked. It seems like everyone is trying to quickly finalise the travel plans that they have shelved for two whole years!

Other countries that will soon also relax their travel regulations will be considered much sought-after destinations among global tourists. These include Turkey, Maldives, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

And once Japan opens its doors (possibly in May or June), my excitement level will definitely go through the ceiling! All of us in the company have long dreamed of scaling Mount Fuji, visiting Hokkaido, going for an onsen bath, savouring sashimi and wagyu and doing so many things around Japan.

Elsewhere in the world, despite the fact that airspace around Russia and Ukraine remain shut for civilian aircraft, flights between Asia and Europe have become increasingly frequent. I think this is partly due to the fact that demand for travel to Europe has gone up as more people are craving for the romantic sights of the continent, while others are there to visit their university-going children.

The reopening of borders will indeed normalise our lives even more as we get to freely move around and mingle, and even get together. Although more people are getting used to the “fun” of working from home, deep inside there will always be this yearning to fly out of our little cages and into the big open world outside.

The sad reality is, however, that the pandemic is not over yet and the coronavirus is still very much around us all across the globe. Also, the Russia-Ukraine conflict intensifies each day, and goods’ prices have shot up.

Nonetheless, we need to learn to live with all these and to accept certain things as our new normal, perhaps even with a little smile.

And even though the reopening of our borders is very good news, the thing is, not every travel agency can bounce back to work immediately. Lest we forget, the pandemic has turned many things upside down. Employees were laid off, shutters pulled down, years of savings emptied. Raising funds and recruiting new workers to reboot the industry remain a tall order.

To be honest, many service personnel have left the tourism industry and few would muster enough courage to return after being left so crushed and defeated.

But my rule of thumb for survival is to adapt and be versatile in the face of a storm. Even if we are short of funds, at least we have the know-how and experience.

And if we have lost most of our skilled workers, we can always train new ones. Bear in mind that some of us may still have a few faithful old hands to help lead a new generation, and not forgetting lots of heart-warming encouragement from our loyal customers and supporters.

The are also many in this industry who will always see each other through thick and thin.

Most importantly, we can all get back to work and start everything afresh.

I’m overwhelmed with joy. Travel agencies in Malaysia have already drawn up new SOP for entering and leaving each country/territory. We have all arranged the best flights and itinerary for our customers, and included Covid-19 insurance coverage too. In short, leave all the planning to your trusted travel agents, who will definitely make sure you have a hassle-free holiday.

Let’s travel again together!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

Published in STAR 2, 19 Mar 2022