Visitors walk at Pantai Cenai in Langkawi as the Malaysian holiday island reopens to domestic tourists. AFP/Mohd Rasfan
LANGKAWI - Visitors flocked to the Malaysian island of Langkawi as it became the country's first holiday hotspot to reopen after a coronavirus lockdown that has hammered the vital tourism industry.
Restrictions on local travel had been in place for months and international borders remain largely closed as Malaysia battles its worst Covid-19 wave.
But with the outbreak gradually easing, Langkawi, one of tropical Malaysia's premier holiday destinations, has been chosen for a pilot project to reopen the sector to domestic tourists.
The island began welcoming visitors on Thursday, with water cannons firing over the first plane to land at its airport.
"We're very excited because we haven't been anywhere since February 2020," Andrea Manason, an Australian woman based in Kuala Lumpur travelling with her family of six, told AFP.
"It's real exciting for us to be here, and to actually have the kids leave the house."
Under the initiative, hotels and businesses have been allowed to reopen while activities on the island's palm-fringed beaches are resuming.
Tourists must be fully vaccinated to visit and have to take a virus test before departure.
The island off Malaysia's northwest coast has long been popular with domestic and overseas visitors, although for now foreign tourists are still barred from the country.
Langkawi welcomed around 3.9 million visitors in 2019, with the number falling dramatically since the pandemic began.
If the island's "tourism bubble" is a success, then other holiday destinations are expected to reopen soon.
Neighbouring Thailand has reopened several islands, including Phuket, to vaccinated foreign tourists.