On 24 April 2020, Astro Awani talk show Consider This featured the first televised interview of Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Nancy Shukri. Melisa Idris and Sharaad Kuttan touched base with her to find out how the ministry is coping with the COVID-19 crisis. The following is a semi-verbatim transcript of the interview.
Part I: Can Tourism Recover?
MI: Hello and good evening, I’m Melisa Idris.
SK: And I’m Sharaad Kuttan
MI: Welcome to Consider This, the show where we want you to consider and reconsider what you know of the news of the day. Tonight on the show we have the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Dato’ Seri Nancy Shukri. Welcome to the show Dato’ Seri, it’s a pleasure to have you here.
NS: Thank you for inviting me.
MI: So over the next half an hour we’re going to focus on the tourism and arts industry but before we get to that—because it’s gonna be a long conversation—I do want to ask you, as a member of the Perikatan National plus GPS government and also a member of cabinet, we’d first like to get your thoughts on the decision to limit the Dewan Rakyat sitting to a single day. Dato’ Seri, what do you think about this move?
NS: Well, actually we have been discussing about it—quite a lengthy discussion because we need to consider a lot of things. Especially, during that time, May 18, is still going to be MCO. Well, maybe they’re going to extend, I may be wrong, it’s still going… we are still going to practice social distancing and also having all those other compliance with the SOPs for MCO. I’m not so sure whether during that time there’s still going to be MCO because it’s just been announced that it’s going to be up to the 12th of May. But having said that, we still have to comply, then therefore we have to comply with social distancing. And the 222 MPs in the dewan, we have to have a gap between one chair before another one can sit there. So some of the MPs will have to sit behind at the back, so no officers, no government offices are allowed to come in because we do not want to encourage many people together. So therefore it is legally right to do so, that is having it for one day…
SK: But Dato’ Seri, can I interject here—we know in several Parliaments around the world including Britain, on which Malaysia is modeled, they have found and used innovation to overcome the problem. And more importantly, as former law minister as well, the question of this most august house for the discussion of lawmaking, as well as a discussion of the government of the day’s priorities, how budgets are being used—aren’t you worried that this will set a dangerous precedent considering it’s possible to actually have Parliament as other countries that demonstrated?
NS: Yeah, well it is possible to do so, but I think for this time it’s going to be just a one-day session for reasons that have been discussed which I cannot disclose here, but of course we are going to have another session. Actually, on that day there’ll be three bills to be passed—it’s not to be passed but they’re going to table three bills for the first reading. There has to be a second reading, but this one is to comply, we have to call for this session at least before the 60 days end. So what you have asked earlier on, [if] there is a possibility that… maybe like the other countries, they can go online, we might be able to do that in the future, but I think that is something that we need to work out now. I think before this, we’re not really prepared for that, but I don’t see any problem with that happening in the future because if the next time we see the situation is still the same, then we need to go online [for a] virtual sitting.
MI: All right, thank you for addressing that with us on the show tonight. Let’s move on to the tourism industry and the collapse due to Covid-19. Most of us understand that the pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard but Dato’ Seri, perhaps you might have more insight into the hidden effects of COVID. Talk us through some of them, not just the obvious and visible impact, but also the hidden and overlooked impact.
NS: Well actually it’s already known that tourism is the worst-hit industry and then we are the third contributor to our economy, about 15.3% [comes] from tourism, and now from January to March we have lost about RM9.9 billion, and then very soon it will be worse than that because this is the peak of where COVID-19 has been hitting us all. What we have seen now, a lot of them have been complaining about losing their jobs, those who are asked to go on unpaid leave, and the government has come in to assist. Now what is it that is unseen at the moment is some of the proposals that we’ve made under the ministry itself, under MOTAC itself, which is not seen yet, which we are already considering to assist the people, because we see that not only those who are working, like tourist guides or tour operators, the travel agencies—not only they are being affected, but the families of these people are also affected. So these are what we have not been able to see, and the government is helping out using the stimulus package, but as MOTAC we are also considering quite a number of things, a number of initiatives—through our tourism recovery action plan, we have already established this tourism recovery action committee to consider various plans. First, we want to use this opportunity to also conduct training, to enhance training for tourist guides and also tourism industries like travel agencies and tour operators. We want them to enhance their training and services online because this is the time they have to build a new site of tourism, they need to relook into how they’re going to market the tourism industry. Now apart from that, we also have some incentives which are still waiting for approval—we are considering to exempt them from paying for a license, this is something to lighten their burden.
SK: Dato’ Seri, could you help us understand in terms of the recovery plan—how long is the timeline for the recovery plan? Many of the elements of the PRIHATIN package were limited in terms of time, you know, two months, three months, six months… With your recovery plan, what are you looking at: a year, year and a half?
NS: Well, we don’t go beyond six months yet. From there we will work [it] out again because now it is more for immediate ones because we want to help the people immediately. Now this is up to six months only. For us to assist them, we have matching grants for them, we have matching grants for the tourism industry themselves. We have two types of matching grants: one is Galakan Melancong Malaysia. We want them to travel in the country and at the same time we also give grants to those who support tourism, our culture, and the arts industry. We are also helping out to promote by… we are now trying to strengthen the economy by using Cuti-Cuti Malaysia again. This is through our Tourism Malaysia.
MI: That’s a really interesting point that you brought up, we’re going to talk a little bit about this pivot to domestic tourism, the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia pivot, but that’s all coming up next in just a couple of minutes on Consider This. Don’t go anywhere, stay tuned.
Part II: Have The Arts Been Forgotten?
MI: Hello, if you’ve just joined us, I’m Melisa Idris. With me, Sharaad Kuttan, you’re watching Consider This. Let’s continue our look at how Covid-19 will change the way not just Malaysia approaches the tourism industry but also the arts and culture sector. How will this specific sector rebuild, especially if we’re looking at no mass gatherings or events for the next year or so? We have on the show, Dato’ Seri Nancy Shukri, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture. Dato’ Seri, what are your thoughts on the arts and culture sector; how are we going to be looking at this sector, especially if it’s exhibitions and galleries and concerts and plays and the like?
NS: Melissa, actually sometimes this is what we call “blessing in disguise”, when these things happen. People are already connected through smartphones, through the internet… so now during MCO, if you go to our website, you can see a competition among those who have talents, among those who are in the arts industry, they are competing to sing, to dance—they are already doing it, because this is how we want them to to stay at home, feeling the fun and all the benefits that they can get out of staying at home. They will get paid through this competition. And for art galleries, if you’re talking about art galleries, they have this virtual gallery. It’s all online, now is the time for us to really train ourselves to use online facilities. It’s amazing though a lot of innovations and creativities that [emerge]* from this COVID-19 MCO break actually, because we are encouraging people to participate in as many [activities] as possible that we are already organising for them through the agencies that are under tourism. So, actually if you can see, again if you go to our websites, people are telling me they saw so much fun, I have not been able to see it but I have been promoting, also through online. So you see people are already getting used to this, this is going to be the new norm—the new norm in the whole world.
SK: Dato Seri, you know the ecosystem of the arts and the cultural sector goes beyond the performers: it’s also the stagehands, all the auxiliary staff, who now don’t have work because shows cannot be staged, or concerts or bands from overseas can’t enter the country. With an extended period, not just the MCO, but a post-MCO Malaysia, what will happen to them; are they being counted in terms of the plans the ministry have, are they, in fact, visible to the ministry at this point in time?
NS: First of all, in the present moment we are already engaging with them. We asked them, even the weavers are involved. Now secondly, if it is already ok for us to gather. Of course even hotels—we are now thinking of going back to hotels to do our functions, hold our functions, to have meetings and all those, because before this I think there was a break of using a lot of big facilities to save funds, but now it is time for us to also assist them. And we are already having plans for all of them, all of those sectors within us, especially… For those who are within the arts industry, those who are in the bands, I find that it is not really that difficult for them, because it is easy for them to plan things and we are always being very responsive towards them. My only concern is those who are in the travel agencies, those who are the tourist guides, those who are the tour operators—we are trying to bring them to look into domestic tourism. Of course, the bands will complement them, so I’m not very much concerned. But talking about those from outside, I think the ones that will be very fast to open will be our borders. Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, because they’ve very close to us, and these are the… they have relatives in the country. So we are also continuously promoting through tourism Malaysia, promoting cross-border kinds of tourism.
MI: But Dato’ Seri, it seems to me there’s a lot of focus on tourism; has the arts been forgotten?
NS: No, that’s why I said the arts are complementing, even now, they are actually at the front now. The arts are the ones at the front now, because they are the fastest to recover in terms of being in the arts industry—a lot of people are very keen in what they are doing, actually they get a lot of responses. Just about singing alone, singing competition—we even have people from other countries who want to join, who want to participate, but we have to tell them to stop because this is only for Malaysians, and we have maybe about 2000 participants now and we have to segregate that so that-
SK: -but Dato Seri, I want to ask you about the entertainment sector, things like pubs which have live bands, many of them have already, in good times, lead fairly insecure lives—will these competitions be sufficient to make up for the loss of a regular income?
NS: Well, to be fair, it may not- it is not going to be sufficient, of course, but we are doing this to get people to earn something for themselves during this MCO. We want to make sure that they have something on their table, food on the table. We are there, we feel for them actually, we feel for them, we want to help them to also rebuild themselves in terms of their own economy, to stimulate the economy, apart from what the government is giving them. We are providing these to make sure that people are getting something. Of course not everybody can get it, well, I cannot answer in terms of giving for everybody, but we are providing this opportunity. At least we are providing opportunity and I hope others are also providing opportunity for them, but at least we are not putting them aside or neglecting them.
MI: Alright, we’re going to take a quick break. More with Dato’ Seri Nancy Shukri in just a few minutes, stay tuned to Consider This.
Part III: Can Cuti-Cuti Malaysia Fill The Gap?
MI: Thank you for staying with Sharaad and I on Consider This. Our guest tonight is Dato’ Seri Nancy Shukri, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, also MP for Batang Sadong. Now Dato’ Seri, the visit Malaysia year 2020 campaign has been cancelled as I understand it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead there will be now more emphasis on domestic tourism or Cuti-Cuti Malaysia, you pointed that out earlier in the interview. I’m wondering whether this pivot to domestic tourism is going to be enough to fill the gap that is left without having international tourists.
NS: Well, I’d like to thank you for this question. I think this is the most common matter that we have been discussing even internationally. Now we have to bear in mind that tourists from outside will not be coming over to Malaysia yet. Neither will we be going out, because they are also looking into domestic tourism. So therefore there are a lot of things in the country itself, in our own country, in our kampung or in our district, that have not been explored by us. So that’s why we are considering- we are looking and also encouraging even tour operators to look into domestic tourism. And there are a lot of things. When you talk about domestic tourism—Sharaad was asking me about those in the music industry—there are people in the music industry in the rural areas, so we are looking into rural tourism. For rural tourism you have a lot of things, you can talk about the ethnic communities in certain states, you can see their culture, how each culture is being practiced among themselves [which] not many people know. You can also look into personalities—personalities who have been leaving legacies for their country and also for their states.
MI: Okay, so previously Dato’ Seri, you know, the positioning of Visit Malaysia or Malaysia’s tourism campaigns have often been to promote Malaysia as a tourist destination to overseas tourists, right? What is it that domestic tourists want?
NS: …oh, you’re asking, what is the domestic…?
MI: How will you promote domestic tourism to Malaysians who are so familiar already with our culture?
NS: No, not many people know. You’ll be surprised because some people they want to know this is going to rebuild our own domestic tourism and the end result will be this is going to be a destination for the foreign tourists later. You know, when we talk about one spot in one rural area which nobody ever knew about until somebody introduced this new place. For example a waterfall which people never knew because it is within land that belongs to a person, an individual private land, so unless somebody brings you there to introduce you to this place, nobody knows about it. And people talking about the culture of this particular ethnic group and why the kind of food that they prepare for themselves is very special, and then they have homestays here and then beautiful places here, the greens there—a lot of us, we don’t even know about it. I am telling you this because I am from Kuching, and I am an MP in Batang Sadong. I’m not from Batang Sadong, but that taught me a lot of things, because by me being there I learn about a lot of things that many people don’t know. Let alone if you talk about going to Mulu, not many people even know about Mulu.
SK: Dato’ Seri, I’ve actually been to Mulu and-
NS: Not many.
SK: -stayed at the resort at the Mulu caves and explored it, I loved it, it’s beautiful but I want to ask you this question-
NS: Exactly, but how many people, Sharaad?
SK: I love Sarawak!
NS: -how many people know it?
SK: And they should, more people from the peninsula should go and I want to ask you that question, which is the free flow between East Malaysia and West Malaysia. Will there be specific problems when it comes to that border. We’ve talked about international borders, we’re talking about domestic borders that are also regulated. What’s your concern; Sarawak state government concerned about a lot of people from the peninsula coming over when the MCO ends and when things are freed up?
NS: Well if it is still MCO, of course we have to comply with not just the Sarawak government—it comes under the procedure that’s established by the Health Department which we have to stand guided by them. We have to listen to them because they are the experts. But by the time the MCO is lifted, I’m sure everything is open but I think there will be a new culture, a new culture that will be existing that is what people [have gotten] used to. Nowadays we hear about the new norm, so the new norm will be we must make sure that this place is clean, hygienic practices, you know, and people still will be having social distancing in place all the time. And one thing we must remember is that people will have confidence, people will have confidence in us.
MI: On that note about confidence, I mean, I can imagine that there will still be a lot of uncertainty, a lot of perhaps psychological uncertainty in wanting to travel. People might be unsure whether this is the right time. How are you going to be addressing that—I can imagine lots of people probably don’t want to get on an airplane at the moment, [perhaps] even after the MCO is lifted.
NS: Well, this is human nature. They have been locked for so long, surely there will be people who really want to go out there and travel, but they are not going to travel like before, they don’t want to travel in a big group. They will be traveling with families, they will be traveling with friends, just a few friends, and they do not want to travel with many people around, they want to make sure that the public places are clean. That’s why those who ended in the tourism industry must try to look into something that will build the confidence of the people to go over. So what are the things, what are the factors which become pulling factors for people to come to a certain kind of destination to visit? So we want to make sure that everybody now will have this habit, a very clean and hygienic habit, that they will be complying with, that will build the confidence among the people, even among Sarawakians going to Semenanjung, Semenanjung going to Sarawak. It’s the same thing that we want to look for, but people will still want to travel after that.
SK: Dato’ Seri, in the last few minutes that we have, could you help us understand what are the biggest challenges for you the minister with your portfolio, considering, you know, a real downturn in revenues for government in the foreseeable future, not just from oil and such, but also from the tourism industry. Tax revenues will be very limited; what are the main challenges do you think you’re going to have to deal with?
NS: Actually, that question is really something that is very close to my heart because we are talking about people who will be deprived from earning so much before this and suddenly a lot of them will be unemployed—the families are affected. Therefore we want all the industries to work together with us in MOTAC so that we can work something out, so we can discuss effective solutions. We have been discussing—yesterday I was with the state excos from the whole country and they were suggesting something for us to help those in the industry. Therefore it is very good for us to work closely together and we will be bringing this up to the federal government for us to discuss further [and see] what else can we do. It is really our concern. I think this is the time for us to work together, we’ll rebuild this economy together, we’ll save Malaysia together. We have a common enemy. Our common enemy is COVID-19, let us all fight this common enemy together then work hard to rebuild our economy together, to save Malaysia.
MI: Dato’ Seri, thank you so much for your time and for being on the show with us tonight. Unfortunately that’s all the time we have on this episode of Consider This. I’m Melisa Idris, with me, Sharaad Kuttan, signing off for the evening. Thank you so much for watching. Have a great weekend folks and good night.