With borders closed to international travellers since March last year, many tourist guides in the country have been grappling with bread-and-butter issues.
The lack of travellers in a pandemic world means that their vocation has practically come to a grinding halt.
Some respite came recently when Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced a new assistance package – the Perlindungan Ekonomi dan Rakyat Malaysia or Permai – worth RM15bil.
In a special address, Muhyiddin said a one-off financial assistance of RM500 will be given to 14,000 tourist guides in the country.
However, many stakeholders are of the opinion that more assistance is needed to help tourist guides in the country sustain their livelihoods.
Malaysian Tourist Guides Council president Jimmy Leong said more needs to be done for the tourist guide community that has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
“Any gesture initiated by the government is appreciated but a one-off assistance of RM500 is certainly not enough to sustain even the basic needs of any family, ” he said.
Leong said the border will not be opening anytime soon and tourist guides would still be struggling in the foreseeable future.
He was reiterating the comments he made in an interview with StarLifestyle last year.
“With borders closed, there is not a single international visitor coming in for vacation. Domestic travellers are restricting themselves in a ‘new norm’ by just holidaying with their family members.
“Thus the services of the licensed tourist guide are not needed, ” he said.
Leong added that not all tourist guides are able to easily switch to another profession.
According to him, the most affected age group are those between 30 and 55.
“The reason is because they are rooted in the profession for many years and those within this age group are the breadwinners in their families. The sudden cut-off in income has affected them, ” he said.
Licensed tourist guide Raja Shaharil said while he is grateful for the Permai scheme, a one-off cash handout simply won’t cut it.
“Frankly speaking, RM500 is not enough to meet the most basic needs of the family. There is still a need for a more sustained assistance for tourist guides, ” he said.
Raja Shaharil said the government needs to look at sustaining the tourism sector.
“The government should consider providing more financial assistance to the workers in the Malaysian tourism landscape – from hoteliers to the travel bus providers – so that they can withstand this crisis. They are forced to put their profession on halt throughout the movement control order, and there is no end in sight to this pandemic crisis, ” he said.
Feeling the pinch
Many tourist guides in the country operate on a gig basis. This means they only receive payment when they offer their guiding service; they are not paid when there are no customers.
Licensed guide Wan Saiful Rufi Wan Abdul Wahab said life is tough in a pandemic-hit world.
“As a fully-qualified tour guide who has been operating for the last decade, I cannot deny that the pandemic has badly affected the industry. Keeping afloat until tourism returns to pre-virus levels will be a struggle for tour guides like myself, ” he said.
While Wan Saiful welcomed the financial assistance under Permai and is thankful that the government had not overlooked the tourist guide community, he said the amount is simply not sufficient to cover daily expenses.
“With bills to pay and commitments to meet, it will not be easy. However, I am going to have to be extremely prudent, ” he said.
Fortunately, Wan Saiful is not the sole breadwinner in his household.
“I am lucky that my wife is still working so that we can at least put food on the table for our small family. It may not sustain us if I were the sole breadwinner of the family, ” he said.
Need for support
The Covid-19 pandemic as well as the various movement control order phases in the country have encouraged Wan Saiful to upskill himself.
“I opted to add some digital ‘magic’ in my career and started doing virtual walking tours. Through these online walking tours, I could bring tourists around Malaysia and keep their wanderlust checked from the comfort of their homes, ” he shared.
Wan Saiful began his virtual tours back in December. He recently introduced a Kuala Lumpur series with an hour-long virtual tour around Kampung Baru.
Meanwhile, Raja Shaharil managed to obtain some professional certificates last year.
He added that the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry should do more to support tourist guides. Some of the suggestions include offering free online courses (which would otherwise cost at least RM50 on average) to tourist guides who intend to renew their Tourist Guide License for a longer period.
This initiative, according to Raja Shaharil, will reduce some finanial burden.
He also proposed that the ministry absorb the tour guide renewal fees and, for tourist guide associations to also absorb membership fees, too.
“Mutual support and creativity are needed as the world continues to respond to the impact of Covid-19, ” he concluded.
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