As fearful regulars stay away, some holidaymakers celebrate a less crowded Genting

Wan Ismail Azman with his family walking around at the Genting Highlands theme park during the first day of Genting Highlands’ reopening in Pahang, June 19, 2020. — Pictures by Shafwan Zaidon
Wan Ismail Azman with his family walking around at the Genting Highlands theme park during the first day of Genting Highlands’ reopening in Pahang, June 19, 2020. — Pictures by Shafwan Zaidon
Wan Ismail Azman with his family walking around at the Genting Highlands theme park during the first day of Genting Highlands’ reopening in Pahang, June 19, 2020. — Pictures by Shafwan Zaidon

GENTING HIGHLANDS, June 20 — Wan Ismail Azman and his sons were among the first few families to enter Malaysia’s City of Entertainment yesterday when Resorts World Genting (RWG) reopened its doors forced shut since March by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing movement control order (MCO).

The Seremban native was glad he made the trip up the highlands.

“With Covid-19 still out there, being indoors to have a good time seemed the logical choice, especially with little kids,” he told Malay Mail when met in the morning.

“My kids haven’t been here before but the rest of us have, but we’ve never seen it this quiet. It’s really a nice feeling,” the father of two boys aged five and three said.

“With the kids here, we were able to get on almost all the rides they were allowed on and there’s no queue bro, that’s the best part.”

Other visitors who were equally thrilled by the absent crowds that had previously thronged the theme parks were two college students from Kuala Lumpur whom Malay Mail met yesterday.

“We heard the place was reopening and just randomly decided to drive up here and see for ourselves.

“We’re not regulars so it was just a trip we said we should take so we can see the place when it’s quieter,” said one who gave his name only as David, a law student at Brickfields Asia College.

Ryan (in white) and David speak to a reporter during an interview session during the first day of Genting Highlands’ reopening in Pahang, June 19, 2020.
Ryan (in white) and David speak to a reporter during an interview session during the first day of Genting Highlands’ reopening in Pahang, June 19, 2020.

Both David and his friend who wanted to be known as Ryan said they planned to make the most of their day trip and would stay there as long as possible, though they hoped to return to Kuala Lumpur before the Friday evening rush hour began.

RWG, which runs a theme park, hotels and Malaysia’s sole authorised casino in Pahang opened at 10am yesterday. Visitors started trickling in about an hour later.

RWG’s head of business operations and strategies Lee Thiam Kit told Malay Mail that the company had to redesign a lot of procedures in order to reopen for business again while ensuring the health and safety of guests and the staff.

“To begin with, nobody in the world has a template for post-MCO or post Covid-19. So we have to work out everything in-house.

Genting Malaysia Berhad’s Head of Business Operations and Strategies, Lee Thiam Kit, speaks to reporters during an interview session at Genting Highlands June 19, 2020.
Genting Malaysia Berhad’s Head of Business Operations and Strategies, Lee Thiam Kit, speaks to reporters during an interview session at Genting Highlands June 19, 2020.

“We are learning and will improve things along the way. For now all new SOPs are in place throughout the premises and as time goes by we will continue to improve operations,” he said.

Lee said while the theme park is open to all visitors, the casino is currently open to members who hold RWG’s Genting Reward card. Due to this rule, Malay Mail was not able to enter the casino and see the number of patrons or interview them.

Lee said the management is limiting each table in the casino to three or four players as part of its spacing concerns.

He also said the hotel is operating at 20 per cent capacity for now.

Daily temperature checks for hotel occupants and compulsory checks for all visitors to RWG June 19, 2020.
Daily temperature checks for hotel occupants and compulsory checks for all visitors to RWG June 19, 2020.

Scanners everywhere

Entrance to the hotel lobby is now centralised, where before visitors had plenty of doors to go in from. This means everyone enters through the same route and passes by a thermal scanner for temperature checks.

At the resort, Malay Mail observed a high level of notices and reminders on keeping a social distance. Stickers marking one metre distances were taped on the floors throughout the premises, including inside restaurants, at ticket counters and outside the entrances of entertainment and retail outlets.

Posters with the QR code were also placed outside every entrance and exit for easy scanning, a requirement for entry.

And resort staff were adamant that everyone scan the QR code or use the MySejahtera app before they were allowed inside again ― even if they had exited just seconds before.

Posters of the required daily QR code for scans are placed at all entrances to RWG. June 19, 2020.
Posters of the required daily QR code for scans are placed at all entrances to RWG. June 19, 2020.

Jobs at stake

For the first month of the MCO back in March, employees of the theme park and casino continued staying in the highland quarters provided.

However, they started leaving Genting Highlands as the government extended the MCO thrice till May 4 after it became apparent that theme parks, entertainment centres and the casino would be among the last businesses allowed to reopen.

Bloomberg reported on June 17 that Genting Malaysia Berhad (GMB), the parent company of RWG, is expected to cut some 3,000 jobs and had started retrenching some staff in its casino and hospitality sector.

GMB, which was reported to have more than 20,000 staff last year, has yet to respond to queries on the retrenchment claim.

But Malay Mail met two women who said they had until very recently worked as cashiers in the theme park and were still in Genting Highlands to pack up their belongings.

“We’re not unhappy with the retrenchment. It’s a sign of the times,” said one of the women who gave her name only as Jasmine.

Jasmine (left) and colleague Mimi are glad RWG are going the extra mile to ensure the safety of visitors and staff June 19, 2020.
Jasmine (left) and colleague Mimi are glad RWG are going the extra mile to ensure the safety of visitors and staff June 19, 2020.

“We came here to pack our stuff and check out the place and I feel what management have done is very good. There’s a lot of SOPs in place and all the staff are making sure the visitors adhere to them,” said the medical imaging graduate from University Kuala Lumpur.

Her ex-colleague, known only as Mimi said she had worked for six months as a cashier in the indoor theme park and remembered how the visitor numbers plunged within two days of the MCO being announced.

“At that time, in like one day, we saw the number of visitors really drop. From thousands to hardly anyone,” said Mimi, a counselling graduate from University Sultan Azlan Shah.

“Weekends were usually packed here with so many kids and families. If you ask me, I think now’s a good time to come and play the rides, but it will lack the carnival atmosphere.

“I feel the casino will recover very fast for obvious reasons, but the other theme parks and rides and hotel will definitely take more time,” she added.

Two taxi drivers in Genting Highlands related a similar story of how the glitzy city of entertainment became a ghost town overnight.

“No customers lah,” quipped one who gave his name as Ah Seng when approached.

“Nobody coming up and nobody going down also, all the same. You ask me how things will be. I also don’t know what to say as it’s the first day today.

“Hopefully more people come and you people write news and articles to let them know then probably it will get better,” he replied when asked about business there and his projection for the rest of this year.

Hand sanitisers are placed around the Genting Highlands theme park in Pahang June 19, 2020.
Hand sanitisers are placed around the Genting Highlands theme park in Pahang June 19, 2020.

The Kuala Lumpur-Genting Highlands route had been popular and lucrative for taxi drivers until the coronavirus outbreak and the MCO in mid-March halted the daily traffic.

Another cab driver Dahlan Rahman Aziz who co-drives a Toyota Rav4 with another colleague, said they had not received any private bookings or from tourists for months.

Dahlan was gloomy about Genting Highland’s economic future, saying that even with RWG reopened, many people may still be too afraid of the Covid-19 contagion to visit.

“Places with large crowds and are family friendly will make people sceptical to visit, especially the older ones and families with little kids. These are the main demographics for Genting in my opinion.

“I would usually bring a customer up and then wait for one to go back to Kuala Lumpur but today, I just came up here at 11.30am and am now waiting for people. There’s hardly anyone now compared to last time but that’s expected.

“I feel that people need to be convinced there’s very strong SOPs in place and Genting is taking every step to ensure your safety. Then people will start coming back and I think by early July business will pick up,” Dahlan added.

RWG staff sanitising visitors' hands, checking temperatures and ensuring social distancing at the entrance to the indoor theme park. June 19, 2020.
RWG staff sanitising visitors’ hands, checking temperatures and ensuring social distancing at the entrance to the indoor theme park. June 19, 2020.

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