Island tour

Should visitors be required to use tour guides?

LETTER | In Malaysia, tourist buses are licensed as low persian (excursion bus) and must have a tourist guide on board when there are passengers, even if only one customer is traveling on the bus, unless waived by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture).

During the first year of Visit Malaysia (VMY) in 1990, I was the Operations Manager of a major inbound tourism company operating a large fleet of passenger vehicles. Full-time staff at our Kuala Lumpur office and garage included 15 tour bus drivers, 15 tour van drivers and 15 tour guides.

One day a caller wanted to immediately charter a tourist bus for a funeral. The supervisor immediately assigned a tour guide who was on duty at the office to accompany the driver. She was young and had just started working as a tourist guide after getting her license.

Just when she was about to burst into tears, I rescinded the instruction and told her she didn’t have to go, and asked the bus driver to proceed by himself. I decided that the company would bear the penalty if the bus was stopped by police officers for not having a tour guide on board.

Earlier in 1984, I witnessed law enforcement first-hand on a round-the-island tour operated by our Penang branch. Arriving at a stop, passengers could not get out of the minibus as they were blocked by a Tourist Development Corporation law enforcement officer.

Since the roof of the minibus was low, passengers had to walk squatting with their heads down and hold on uncomfortably when they could not move forward. The agent should have cleared the passengers to disembark first and then inspected the tour guide’s license, which was found to be in good standing.

Over the past few decades, tour coaches departing or heading to airports have been stopped by law enforcement officers for inspection. These overzealous operations have created a bad image of our country for newly arrived tourists, and departing tourists are afraid of missing their flight.

Fortunately, no such incident has been reported in recent years. But tour operators were unhappy with the use of private vans for airport transfers, as the app was often lacking. Where there was a shortage of tourist guides like in Kuching, the authorities had to turn a blind eye.

Under the Tourist Industry Act 1992 no licensed tourist business shall employ or procure for a tourist or any other person the services of a tourist guide who is not licensed under that Act or whose the license has been suspended or revoked.

The above regulations are valid, because customers who have paid for the services of a tourist guide must obtain one who is professional. This is only possible after they have completed effective training and refresher courses, passed exams and renewed licenses for the languages ​​in which they are proficient.

With few exceptions, this arrangement has worked well since the introduction of tour guide licenses in 1975. But as early as 1990 the term “seated guide” became a laughing stock when a tour guide was hired to do nothing other than sitting on the bus just to comply with regulations.

It became more endemic after foreign tourist arrivals surpassed the 10 million mark in 2000 and 20 million in JMV2007. This is especially true for Korean tour groups with tour leaders and their local staff sharing shopping commissions and tour guides receiving a nominal guide fee.

Officially, tour guides are not allowed to receive shopping commissions as it would be too difficult to control if allowed. Nevertheless, they do, and there is no need for departmental law enforcement officers to investigate as long as there are no complaints.

However, if tourists are taken specifically to a place, especially unauthorized stops not included in the itinerary where substandard goods are sold at high prices so that heavy commissions can be paid, the ministry should not show no mercy by suspending the license of those involved. .

If sightseeing tours include shopping stops such as the Royal Selangor Visitor Center attached to its factory in Kuala Lumpur where tourists can purchase genuine quality products without having to pay more, then there is nothing contrary to the Ethics for Tour Guides to Receive Nominal Commissions.

But in a bid to reap higher commissions, some tour operators send their tour groups much further afield, where inferior products are offered. As itineraries are set by tour operators and not tour guides, commissions are also shared with those who have made prior arrangements.

However, revenue from buying commissions also enables tour operators to organize daily bus tours with guaranteed departures at affordable prices. Many cities don’t offer such a facility, and one of the reasons was the fear of being caught accepting buying commissions.

After the ban on free tours, shopping commissions had become a taboo subject, especially for tour groups in China. As early as the mid-1980s, some incoming tour operators in Singapore did not charge Chinese tour operators for airport transfers and sightseeing tours.

Indeed, they could easily earn more through buying commissions. Later, Chinese overseas tour operators began offering free tours for those who wanted to join tour groups to travel overseas. And if you think that’s the max, you’re wrong.

There was a time when local tour guides paid tour operators for the opportunity to handle tour groups in China instead of being paid guide fees. With Chinese outbound tour operators and their tour operators, as well as incoming tour operators and local tour guides all relying on buying commissions, imagine the pressure on Chinese tourists to continue shopping at various locations.

Another recurring problem that has not yet been solved is the obligation to have a tourist guide on board a tourist bus. The best way to answer this question is to ask: should visitors be required to use tour guides?

In the past, many meetings with the ministry had involved associations representing tour guides and tour operators, with the former taking a combative approach, which was not necessary.

The tour guide service provides tour operators with an additional revenue stream and there is no reason for them to want a blanket exemption on tour guides. After all, many tour operators started their careers as tour guides and some are still actively guiding, and not all guides are freelancers.

If it is a normal group of foreign tourists on vacation, there is a consensus that the tour guide is a must. But if it’s an airport transfer for airline crew, then peace and quiet would be much appreciated instead of being bombarded with commentary by a tour guide.

Similarly, staff of multinational corporations from across the region or around the world gathered in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting would need privacy while being briefed by a superior when transferring from one location to another, without a local tourist guide does not listen to them involuntarily.

For classification, a group could be considered foreign if its membership exceeds two-thirds, as it would be impractical to exclude Malaysian executives.

The ministry should continue to grant general exemptions to foreign tourist groups on services already cut and consider others on a case-by-case basis, such as low-budget student groups. This would encourage many of them to come and visit again when they are working adults.

Regarding domestic tours, there should be a blanket exemption for tour guides, as requesting a waiver on a case-by-case basis is a waste of resources and impossible to get approval in time, as passenger name lists keep changing until the last minute.

While domestic tourism spending increased from RM47.8 billion in 2012 to RM103.2 billion in 2019, it has largely stagnated for domestic tours, especially the use of tourist buses, as locals do not do not want to pay several hundred ringgits a day for a tourist. guidance they do not need.

For classification, a group can be considered local if Malaysians exceed two-thirds, as the domestic travel market includes expatriates and their families staying here, foreign students and workers.

In any case, customers who have paid for a tour guide must be provided with someone who is licensed for the requested language. Likewise, it is only fair that day-trippers and domestic tourists have a choice and not have to pay for and use a tour guide they do not want.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.