Surviving MCO With No Ticket Sales & Tourists

Uncertain. This is the only word Raja used to describe the atmosphere of Farm In The City (FITC) during the 2 MCOs.

Being in the tourism industry, the general manager of the outdoor petting zoo was well aware of the risks associated with the business. Bird flu, haze, and the rainy season were familiar examples that usually scared visitors. However, the team always knew that such crises would end within 3 months.

He confessed, “But this particular thing (MCO), we just couldn’t tell when it would end, we just couldn’t plan. We have reached a level where we have sat down asking ourselves, “Are we going to shut down?” Is it going to end up this way? “

Dressed in his ranger uniform, the charismatic Raja met us at the entrance to the park early in the morning, ready to take us to meet the animals. While introducing us to the farm dinosaur turtle, he told Vulcan Post the story of what it was like to run a petting zoo that couldn’t earn money from ticket sales.

It was a cool morning in the empty quiet park with only ambient noises in the background as Raja led us away

It wasn’t meant to be like this

It was the start of a new year when the 2019 end-of-year school holidays had just ended. FITC staff didn’t have much time to catch their breath, however, as the next wave of visitors was coming – the crowds enjoying their New Year’s promotions.

Raja explained that the proceeds from this sale would be used to fund the farm’s operations for the remainder of the year. However, they were canceled in January 2020 as the virus began to spread around the world.

Spot one of the giant tortoises in the empty park

Struck by the AGC in March, the FITC was left with its cash reserves and felt it only had a lead of at least 6 months.

This reserve of money, Raja added, was not only for FITC spending, but also for their other parks. These include the KL Tower Mini Zoo, Phantasy Farm in Port Dickson and another in Bentong, which is still in the works.

Fortunately, food and medicine for the animals had already been covered in preparation for the expected January crowd. “It was enough to feed the animals initially, but it was still eating away at our reserves,” said Raja.

Drastic measures to reduce costs had to be taken. Not wanting to lay off the employees, they were assigned on a rotational basis, but with a heavier workload as 15 employees now had to cover what was once a 40-person job. This was a two-pronged approach, as staff had the freedom to find part-time jobs elsewhere during their shift while maintaining business continuity if a group fell ill.

“Even though the park couldn’t open, we still had to clean up daily to make sure that no bacteria or viruses would infect the animals,” Raja said.

Not only that, they had to find ways to strategically source pet food. “We couldn’t reduce the quality of the animals’ food because they just didn’t want to eat it,” laughed the animal lover, joking that animals were picky eaters too.

I personally made a new friend that day

With a developing park in Bentong, they realized they had unused land, which led them to plant fruits and vegetables for the animals there. This covered at least 30% of the cost of purchasing food, with the remaining 70% being purchased from other sources.

“Customers also started calling, offering to send fruits and vegetables to feed the animals, which has helped their food supply tremendously,” Raja gratefully told Vulcan Post.

As we continued to walk the park path, we encountered deer which, like dogs, slammed their hooves to greet us as we entered the enclosure. “Did the animals wait near their door hoping to see customers during the lockdown?” I asked curiously, stroking the gentle doe.

Animals, please? / Image credit: Vulcan Post

“It was mostly mammals like these deer and alpacas since they got used to people grooming them. In fact, they were waiting at people’s doors every day, because they are so used to the attention, ”explained the manager.

“As for the birds and reptiles, they roamed freely in their own enclosures, so they weren’t too affected as the staff always came to clean and feed them on a daily basis.

Go above and beyond for customers

Since the farm couldn’t sell tickets or ask for donations as it was a business, she turned to selling their souvenir store products through Facebook Lives and WhatsApp. A customer even called, asking for a special delivery as a gift to his girlfriend at a specific time and day.

Touched by the intention of this client, Raja went out of his way and pulled a few strings to make it happen. He even told his staff that if they couldn’t outsource a delivery, he would make the trip personally, risking roadblocks to send that alpaca plush to that customer’s lover.

But the founder of the farm, Dato Allan Phoon, who we met in his barn office, said online sales can’t generate much income. On average, that would only earn about 3-5% of the average 7-8,000 RM they would earn on a normal day from ticket sales. This income, although small, was used to purchase more animal feed.

However, their e-commerce activities are still ongoing, even with visitors welcomed again after the two MGAs.

A lively souvenir shop

Tragedy unites humanity

Once the 2020 CMCO arrived, Raja said other players in the tourism industry began to join hands. He received calls from agencies and hotels offering to collaborate on packages that could benefit both companies.

He recalls, “We all started to come together calling each other like, ‘Hey, what can we do? We are also dying here, how can we help? ”

That, he told Vulcan Post, was not the same as the downtimes experienced during the haze, as being indoor businesses, hotels and malls wouldn’t feel the same. harmful, for example.

Conversely, if the economy was not doing well, people would move away from malls to save money, but still visit FITC because it was affordable.

“So we were just taking care of ourselves, but now not everyone is doing so well, even the malls. They asked us, “Would you like to bring animals to the mall?” Maybe you can set up a booth here to sell tickets? He elaborated. “Everyone was actually talking to each other about how we could get through this together.”

In addition, the FITC was getting calls from visitors and volunteers, happy to show their support and play with pets again. To manage the crowds, they would allow up to 900 people for every 2 hours, where visitors would follow a one-way path to ease the clashes.

The workforce has also grown to 40 people per day, where at least 3 workers are needed in an enclosure to manage crowds and keep tabs on visitors’ interactions with their 280 species of animals in the park.

As international tourism continues to decline, visitors are made up of a large number of Malays. Allan told Vulcan Post that before that, most locals didn’t even know such an attraction existed in the country.

For him, the FITC has an important role to play, and not just in educating children and their young parents on how to respect, care for and interact with animals.

Having grown up in a Kampung close to nature, he also wanted to bring these experiences to city dwellers. Every time he sees grandparents sharing their own stories Kampung animal experiments with their grandchildren on a FITC tour, her heart warms.

Dato Allan Phoon, Founder of Farm In The City

That was Allan’s main goal: to create a place where family memories could be created, where they could be savored again every year when photos posted to Facebook appear as reminders.

Winding through the school vacation crowd on an early Thursday morning, Raja walked us back to our car. The sites we saw were full of hope, with busy lines at the ticket booth and kids enthusiastically trying to grab buckets of seeds and vegetables to feed the pets. It looked like the place was healing.

We properly left the scene and were immediately greeted by high rise buildings and cars buzzing around us, memories of a beautiful morning filled with animals lingering in our minds. It really was a farm in the city.

  • You can read more about Farm In The City here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.

All image credits: Vulcan Post

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Jothi Venkat

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