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Published: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 9:47:24 AM

Driving the tourism industry

Party mood: The crowd cheering during the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 promotional launch at Bukit Jalil National Stadium. With just three weeks to go before Visit Malaysia Year 2014, travel operators claim they have not been given any incentives or funding to help them prepare for the programme.

Party mood: The crowd cheering during the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 promotional launch at Bukit Jalil National Stadium. With just three weeks to go before Visit Malaysia Year 2014, travel operators claim they have not been given any incentives or funding to help them prepare for the programme.

With Visit Malaysia Year around the corner, tour operators are asking for more incentives to spur the industry.

OUTDATED laws and guidelines, high import duties on cars and high operational costs are stifling the local tour and travel agencies, according to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta).

With just three weeks to go before Visit Malaysia Year 2014, travel operators claim they have not been given any incentives or funding to help them prepare for the programme.

“The Government says it wants to target high-yield tourists, but these tourists also expect high-end services,” Matta president Hamzah Rahmat says.

“How are tour agencies to afford the luxury vehicles that the tourists want to travel in? We are not even given any reduction on import duties or taxes to purchase such cars.”

The luxury cars they now own, he adds, are also bound by rigid permit regulations. These vehicles with limousine licence can only be parked at specified hotels, which are called the “base”. And to park at the base, the tour agent has to pay rent to the hotels.

“The vehicle is also only allowed to ply between the airport and the hotel. If the tourist chooses to stay at a different hotel, we cannot use that vehicle to ferry the tourists.

“For example, my permit says I can only move between Parkroyal Hotel and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. But my guests are going to Hilton Hotel. According to my permit, I cannot provide the transfer, but we have to provide this customer service to our guests.

“Maybe 30 years ago, there were not many hotels and people did not travel in this fashion. But times have changed and our industry has to be allowed to change too.”

Matta, he adds, has been calling for a change to the way things are done in the industry but these calls have always fallen on deaf ears.

Another outdated law is the requirement for all tour vehicles ferrying more than seven persons to have a tour guide present.

If there is no tour guide, he says, the agency will be penalised by the Public Transport Commission (SPAD).

“Even for a simple transfer from point A to point B, we are required to have a tour guide with us. We have members who have paid up to RM18,000 fine because they did not have a tour guide with them.”

Hamzah says the regulation not only adds to the cost of the tour operator, who has to hire the guide, but also makes it difficult for agencies in the outskirts where few guides are available.

“Of course, there are provisions for us to apply for an exemption from the ministry to make a simple transfer without a tour guide. But with bureaucracy, we have to go up and down a government department and it takes days just to get approval. Also, many of our (group) requests are last minute, which leave us with no time to get permission from the ministry,” he adds.

He points out that in Europe, tourist guides are not required to travel with the group throughout the journey.

“In Europe, they did away with this old system long ago. For example, when a tour group leaves Paris for Milan, they will not have a guide with them.

“When they arrive in Milan, the operator will engage a local guide to show them around. Once they are done, the tour guide leaves and the group moves on to the next destination,” he says, noting that the same system could be practised here.

If a group of tourists leave from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca, he says, there is no need for a tour guide to travel with them.

“We can just go to Malacca and engage a guide there. A local guide, born and bred in Malacca, will know the place much better than a guide from Kuala Lumpur who has only learnt about the place in theory,” he says.

However, Malaysian Tourist Guides Council (MTGC) president Jimmy Leong disagrees, saying the country’s laws are very much up to date.

“This mandatory ruling to have tourist guides in all tourism vehicles is practised in all Asean countries.

“Tour agencies are trying to cut costs by hiring illegal tour guides instead of licensed guides. These illegal guides, who are not

qualified, may be giving tourists incorrect information, and this is damaging to the industry,” he warns.

Leong, who is also vice-president of the South East Asian Tourist Guides Association, claims many local agencies are flouting the law by making their vehicle drivers double up as tour guides to cut cost.

“Licensed guides, on the other hand, are specialised, fluent in specific languages to cater to the needs of tourists and are required to attend training regularly to ensure they are up to date on the country’s tourism products,” he says.

However, Hamzah clarifies that they are not trying to jeopardise the tour guide industry.

“If we abolish the ruling, we can encourage local city guides in every city.

“Even retired teachers or civil servants, with a little training, can become city guides.

“They can relate the history and information about the town, which is more personal and effective. The guides will not even have to leave their towns, we will bring the groups there.”

Many rulings, he points out, were introduced in the Tourism Industry Act 1992.

“It is 2013 now, and nothing has changed! We are aiming to become a developed country by 2020 but we are still applying laws that are over 20 years old.”

Hamzah also gripes about the many types of permits required for tourism vehicles.

“We want them to be converted into a single permit. It can be called the tourism vehicle permit.”

Currently, there are the limousine permit (for luxury cars), the hire-and-drive permit and the excursion bus or bas persiaran permit.

Sabah Matta chairman KL Tan concurs, saying rigid and outdated laws are forcing tour agencies to operate illegally.

“We want to have a fleet of vehicles to cater to high-end customers, but we do not have a place to park these vehicles. We should be allowed to park at our own offices, where it will be convenient for everyone, instead of being forced to park at specific hotels,” he says.

S. Jaya Kumar, who is Matta’s vice-­president of Ground Transportation, says that while the Government is promoting VMY 2014, it has frozen the issuance of hire-and-drive licences for tour agencies.

These licences are specifically for vehicles to be rented out to tourists to drive themselves around.

According to Jaya Kumar, the licences were frozen on the grounds that too many have been given out.

“They must understand that many agencies applied for these licences to use on vehicles which would then be used as limousines. Instead of renting out the cars to the tourists, the agencies use these cars to chauffeur the tourists around because the agencies cannot afford to get the limousine licence.

“With VMY 2014, many tourists will want to hire cars, and unless we get more licences, we will not be able to cope with the demand,” he says.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, in a statement, points out that the Government has announced various incentives for the industry.

During the Budget, he adds, it was announced that tour operators who bring in at least 750 foreign tourists or handle a minimum of 1,500 local tourists per year will receive 100% income tax exemption for three years.

On the hire-and-drive licences, he says the licences are handled by the Land Public Transport Authority (SPAD). The ministry, he adds, only handles the issuance of these licences in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan and they have not been frozen.

Tags / Keywords: Business, Tourism; Visit Malaysia Year 2014

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