KUALA LUMPUR: As the Asian market paces through its rebound from lockdowns implemented following the coronavirus outbreak, the retail segment has taken one of the biggest hits because of the pandemic.
Malaysia imposed a mandatory nationwide lockdown on March 18 under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin declared a general prohibition of movement and gathering, or the Movement Control Order (MCO), which included the closure of business premises except for supermarkets, public markets, grocery stores and convenience stores with essential goods.
The government also imposed strict restrictions on the entry of all tourists and foreign visitors into the country.
Areas like Bukit Bintang in the center of Kuala Lumpur, where businesses rely on tourist expenditure, suffered a massive blow due to the closures.
Last June Arab News reported that data from 2018 indicated that nearly 33,000 Arab tourists visited Malaysia, compared with 27,000 a year before. A majority of Arab tourists came from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi tourists spend $257 a day when holidaying in Malaysia and stay for an average of 10 nights.
Earlier this year Malaysia launched its “Visit Malaysia” campaign with hopes of catering to over 30 million tourists, both local and foreign, and boosting national revenue. But the efforts were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism Malaysia even established the Secretariat Shopping Malaysia in 2002 to oversee the development of the shopping sector in the country’s tourism economy.
Tourism Malaysia’s director general, Musa Yusof, said that Malaysia welcomed over 50,000 tourist arrivals from the Middle East in the first quarter of 2020.
“Based on our statistics, tourists from these countries have a high preference for Malaysia’s shopping destinations such as Bukit Bintang and Kuala Lumpur City Center, Sunway and Subang, as well as Petaling Street,” he told Arab News.
He added that the agency hoped to maintain these initiatives and offer better deals for international tourists too, once it was safe to open borders again.
According to a report shared with Arab News by the Malaysian Retailers Association, 2020 has been the worst period for retailers since 1987.
“The retail market turned into a bloodbath since mid-March with the implementation of the MCO,” the report said, indicating that the retail industry suffered a negative growth rate of 11.4 percent in retail sales in the first quarter of the year, a massive plunge compared with the corresponding period in 2019, which saw a positive 3.4 percent growth.
The fashion and fashion accessories sub-sector saw a negative 30.5 percent growth rate and is expected to decline further in the second quarter.
Major retailers like the Parkson Retail Group, in a written response to Arab News, said the pandemic caught almost everyone by surprise.
“Our business was closed for 47 days during the lockdown period and we only resumed operations in stages between May 4 and May 13 during the conditional lockdown period, with controlled operating hours and stringent rules set by the authorities,” Parkson’s spokesperson said, adding that the footfall into the stores declined in excess of 70 percent due to COVID-19 restrictions.