Malaysia’s first attempt at a domestic tourism travel bubble begins on Malaysia Day, September 16, with the popular vacation island of Langkawi.
[UPDATED Sept 15] Despite announcing the tourist restart initiative for Langkawi quite some time ago, and setting a commencement date of September 16, the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were only made official and announced on September 9. A significant change was then announced on the evening of September 15, less than 24 hours before the initiative was set to begin.
With effect from September 16, fully vaccinated individuals (along with their minor children) may visit Langkawi.
The guidelines make an offhand reference to police permission (PDRM), but do not otherwise plainly state that obtaining such permission to travel is required; we hope for clarification on this point. (Editor’s Note: We have confirmed that no permission letter from PDRM is required unless visitors are journeying by land via interstate travel to reach the ferry point.)
Covid-19 PCR tests are not required for travel, nor is the purchase of Covid travel insurance. Despite publishing SOPs just days ago clearly stating that Covid screening was not mandatory, on September 15, the government apparently reversed course and announced that all visitors would need to be tested (with negative results) within 48 hours of visiting Langkawi. It certainly begs the question why the Health Ministry waited until the last minute to make the announcement.
Clinic results from either the PCR swab test or RTK rapid test are acceptable. The former costs anywhere from around RM270 to over RM300 in the Greater KL area, while the latter is priced from about RM130 and up.
Self-test kits, which use the person’s saliva, can also be purchased, but must only be used at the point of departure. Apparently a special area is being set up for would-be passengers to administer the test to themselves. If the results are negative, they receive a validation slip from an Ministry of Health worker, which would then be presented to the airline’s check-in staff.
Naturally, kiosks are being set up at airports and ferry terminals so travellers caught by surprise can purchase the self-test kit there. Some social media critics have already speculated that the forced purchase of kits may have played a part in waiting until the evening before the programme began to make the announced changes, saying that had people known ahead of time, some may not have booked their flights and hotels so quickly.
The government just recently set the price ceiling on the self-test kits at RM19.90 to howls of protest from retailers, as the typical price before the cap was RM28 to RM41. The kits have been flying off shelves ever since, and though they were supposedly offered for sale through the MySejahtera app, that functionality has now been suspended.
It’s easy to foresee any number of problems arising from this late-hour shift to the requirements — lack of communication and traveller awareness, limited supply of the least-expensive testing option, people mistakenly taking the self-test before they reach the airport (thus presumably rendering the results invalid), confusion and annoyance at the sure-to-be-crowded departure points and self-testing areas, and on and on.
This no doubt came as a nasty surprise to the hundreds of thousands who already booked their travel, but making the 11th-hour bombshell perhaps even more galling was the way it was presented — as if this testing requirement had been in place all along, and travellers were merely being reminded. As of late on September 15, the previous official SOPs are still posted on MOTAC’s website, clearly stating no Covid screening would be required.
Here are the SOP details, as officially published by the Ministry of Travel, Arts, and Culture (MOTAC) on September 9. (Worth noting, the announcement about the Covid test requirement is not yet appearing on MOTAC’s website.) The announcement was released in Bahasa Malaysia, so what follows is a translation.
Notification Regarding SOPs, Tourism Bubble (Travel Bubble), Langkawi Island Pilot Project
The government is very concerned with the wishes of a large number of Malaysians who want to move to enjoy the beauty of nature in this blessed land of Malaysia. As a sign of the government’s concern for all Malaysian families who have provided support for the country to achieve a wide level of vaccination coverage, in conjunction with Malaysia Day this year, Langkawi Island will be the first destination for a pilot project to open the domestic tourism sector.
According to YB Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, Minister of Tourism, Arts, and Culture, starting September 16, 2021, Langkawi can be visited by domestic tourists who meet the SOP criteria from all over the country, including from states in Phase 1 of the National Rehabilitation Plan. However, this permission does not apply to those who are currently in areas under the Tightened Movement Control Order (PKPD).
Tourists have the option to go to Langkawi by air or land. For movement by road, tourists need to use the services of travel agencies, at least to use transportation services from the starting destination to the ferry jetty to Langkawi.
Meanwhile, tourists who start their journey to Langkawi from Kedah and Perlis, as well as those who use the air route, are not required to use the services of travel agencies.
Here are the SOPs to follow:
- Limited to individuals who have completed two doses of vaccination;
- The types of holidays allowed are on a daily basis (round trip on the same day), overnight, holidays with accommodation/admission bookings made in advance, package tour holidays through a travel company licensed and registered with MOTAC;
- The number of passengers per vehicle while en route is subject to the actual capacity of the vehicle;
- Visitors who need to adjust to the ferry service hours to Langkawi are allowed to spend the night at registered accommodation premises in Kedah/Perlis;
- Visitors must show proof of purchase documents for tourism products such as flight tickets, ferry tickets, hotel receipts, or travel package receipts when applying for permission with PDRM and when requested by SOP compliance agency enforcement;
- The permitted Langkawi Tourism Bubble Activities include:
- Accommodation in hotels and homestays including facilities in hotel and homestay premises such as surau, swimming pool, gymnasium, lounge, hall, Business Events (MICE), Tourism and Cultural Events subject to General SOP Phase 4 issued by MKN and SOP of the Ministry/ Department/ Agency related;
- Beach activities, water sports, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing tourism, edutainment centres, recreational parks, extreme/ adventure/ nature parks, farms, aquariums, zoos and other leisure, recreational and social activities;
- Special Interest Tourism Activities (golfing, scuba diving, cycling, angling, yachting, etc.);
- Eco Geo-Travel activities (bird watching, caving, mountain climbing, white water rafting, hiking, jungle trekking, camping, and so on);
- Premises of art, culture and heritage such as museums, libraries, art galleries, cultural heritage art centres/villages, staging of cultural performances and others;
- Theme Parks and Family Entertainment Centres; and
- Academic Tours such as Geopark Discovery Centre, Art Gallery, Paddy Field.
There is no age limit set for entry to Langkawi Island and individuals under the age of 18 must travel with a fully vaccinated guardian. In addition, insurance coverage
as well as Covid-19 screening is also not mandatory. [See above]
To ensure the smooth running of the program and safeguard the interests of the Malaysian Family as a whole, MOTAC will monitor the implementation of the tourism bubble in Langkawi and will obtain feedback from the community related to the program as a whole within two weeks. This feedback will later be evaluated and submitted to the National Security Council (NSC) for consideration for further action, such as the opening of more tourist destinations identified in line with MOTAC’s aspirations.
MOTAC urges the public who wish to travel to Langkawi Island to adhere to the SOPs that have been set to ensure that the Langkawi Tourism Bubble remains green and in turn can realise the planning of more domestic tourism bubbles in the future.
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